Orion

Two weeks after the deaths of Oromis and Glaedr, Eragon sat in the middle of yet another council of the leaders of the rebellion. Only this time, the topic was centered around him instead of strategy.

"With your masters gone, do you think you will be able to defeat him with your current training?"

Nasuada's was the most practical question. It was no use going through all the trouble and marching on Uru'baen without someone to finish the bloody job. If Eragon could not kill the king, then all was lost.

He looked around the room with a solemn look. Orik stood proudly across from him, a small smile. He was probably confident in the Rider, he was family after all. Nasuada stared calmly after him, nothing fazed her…on the outside. But those who knew her could tell by her eyes. And now, her eyes told him she was frightened for his answer. King Orrin removed his gaze from Eragon, putting his 'full' half hearted efforts in the war. He did not look like he particularly cared. Surda could pull out and claim loyalty to the Empire at any moment. Their political ties ran only so far as King Orrin's desire to not be subjected to a higher authority any longer.

Arya stood stoically to a side. Unlike Nasuada, her eyes revealed precious little. Instead, her gaze was fixed on him, distant, completely neutral. Her gaze told him nothing, yet affected him so.

There is no way around it, Saphira.

Oromis-ebirthil said you were.

I am not ready and we both know it.

The sapphire dragon huffed, but gave her consent.

"No, I cannot. He is too powerful for me to defeat. With the added commodity of the Red Rider and Thorn, I especially cannot."

Nasuada looked away, the fear coming through her eyes. Orrin let out a sigh, and Orik looked…disappointed. Only Arya's facial expression had not changed.

"There is another way. Another method of training."

Queen Islanzadi's voice rang from the mirror. She was stationed in Gil'ead, holding the fortress down there.

"I am open to any suggestions, Drottning." Eragon's reply was swift as it was heartfelt. He needed a way to finish the job.

"There is a man, Orion, on the top of highest peak of the Beor Mountains. He is powerful. Not many know of him, but he has lived there for centuries."

"There has to be another way."

The alarm in Arya's voice was evident. He looked at her, startled at the lack of control on her voice.

Her eyes met his, the alarm still evident. Whether it was fear of Orion, or fear for him, Eragon could not tell.

Saphira nudged her Rider's shoulder.

"Saphira wants to know the details, how to find him, what he would teach, etc."

Eragon passed on the message, but the Queen got his understanding completely.

"We elves have many secrets. I would like to speak to Eragon and Saphira alone. Whomever he chooses to tell will be his choice, however, this knowledge that I am about to give is a dangerous business."

Nasuada commanded everyone out, looking back on briefly with a tentative smile.

Arya stayed put.

"Daughter, this means you as well."

The Elvin ambassador, and for title's sake, the Elvin princess furrowed her eyebrows before her trademark defiant stare returned to her face, especially when dealing with her mother.

Her silence was enough of a statement to send the message that she was not going anywhere.

"Arya svit-kona, I would like to get this information as soon as possible."

Her eyes shot to his, looking very much like the time when he pledged his allegiance to Nasuada and Arya thought it was the council he vowed himself to…completely and utterly betrayed.

Gently, he reached out his mind to her.

We will speak later, I assure you.

Her jaw clicked, but she said her goodbyes and stalked out the door.

"Bring Glaedr out. He must know about this."

Eragon retrieved the brown pouch and gently took out the golden orb. It was dimly lit, but nevertheless signaled he was there and listening.

"Orion is an old man who lives at the top of the mountain. He appeared centuries ago, making his presence felt with lightning streaking across the sky. His power is unmatched. He set fires at the base of the mountain from the top where he resides. Immense…however, questionable. He has not let many see him, and his pupils are fewer still. His methods are…different."

Glaedr's presence shot through.

"Tell this to her, finarel. I would not even recommend such a trainer. Do not, it is not safe."

Eragon relayed his message.

"We have no choice. If you want to defeat Galbatorix, then this is the only way."

The eldunari subsided.

"It seems like I have no choice."

The Queen nodded her approval.

"Saphira cannot go with you. Neither can Glaedr-elda, or anyone else. He will strike you down if you do not trek alone."

"But the winter is coming, it is a suicide journey."

"It is part of the test. He does not take just any pupil. You must rely on your skill as a hunter as I understand you were before the New Dawn of the Riders."

Eragon shook his head.

"And if he does not accept me?"

"If you have not tried, then you have already failed."

The Rider nodded.

"Who has he trained before?"

Islanzadi gave him a hard look.

"I was hoping you would not ask. But since you have, it cannot be helped."

"Who?"

"Galbatorix."

And with that she shut off the connection.

Eragon stood in a daze…not Saphira's protests or Glaedr's warning reached him.

Finarel! Finarel!

He was brought out of his stupor.

"Sorry, ebirthil."

You are right in that you are not ready. However, finarel, this is one task I would not be disappointed in seeing you fail. Decide for yourself.

Eragon, you cannot do this.

I have no other choice.

You always have a choice, little one. You cannot turn into him.

Is that what you think of me? That I would turn into him simply because Orion trained us both? Oromis-ebirthil trained both of us or did you forget that too?

She growled at him.

You know that is not what I meant.

He sighed sheepishly, on edge about the entire affair. Everything pointed to Orion killing him, but there was not another choice. They had five months till the winter was over and the war could resume. Not even the soldiers who felt no pain could take the cold. They might not feel it, but Alagaesian winters would turn them into frostbite itself.

I know, Saphira, I am just conflicted.

You will be leaving again.

He looked at his dragon, reprimanding himself that he put her welfare second to his decision…again.

Do not think like that. My welfare comes second to defeating the king, as does yours, that is what we are tasked with and that is what shall happen no matter the consequences.

Thank you, Saphira.

Do not thank me. You must leave as soon as possible. Who shall you tell?

I will go to Nasuada first, tell her the bare minimum.

And Arya?

She probably knows more about Orion than anyone else here. I must speak with her.

Then go, I shall await.

Eragon trudged off, his mind split between the possible outcomes. The first: he lives or he dies. If he lives, then he could become a more powerful Rider, able to defeat the king, or he could become a more powerful Rider who takes over for the king…the next Galbatorix.

"Be careful your hands do not revel in carnage."

His master's words rang through.

No…no, as long as his mind remained unchanged, he could not change.

"Eragon Shadeslayer, here to see Lady Nasuada."

The two hefty Nighthawks stepped aside after his proclamation. It was only a matter of protocol, and it was quite annoying after a while.

"Lady Nasuada."

She looked up from her scrolls.

"Well, what do you know?"

"I must leave as soon as possible. The next months will not be large battles. I will be back before the first spring if I am alive. And if not…"

"Is this absolutely necessary? I cannot lose a Rider simply to kill the king."

"That is my purpose here, ultimately. I must defeat the king. Murtagh is not so powerful that the elves cannot handle, and because of their involvement, the Varden is stronger than ever."

She nodded and looked back down.

"How will we know your progress?"

"I shall scry one of the elves as often as need be to ensure I am still alive. I would rather not scry you as it is imperative no one knows where I am or where I am going to be exactly."

"Very well. Stay safe and make haste."

Eragon bowed and left to find Arya's room. She was placed in a room down from his own, but with a much better view of the lake than his. He chuckled at the thought, unsure of why it was so funny.

He prepared to knock three times, but the door opened before the second pound could even land. The Rider's breath caught in his throat, as if that was news. She was growing ever more beautiful in his eyes. Her long raven black hair was pushed into a bun, emphasizing her long slender neck. A few strands fell out, as if too undisciplined to stay with the rest of her hair. She had changed from her black leather armor into something more suitable for the cold nights. Elvin made "winter" clothes.

"Arya svit-kona."

She left the door open and fell deeper into her room, an untold permission to enter. He stepped gingerly inside, his footsteps silent even to himself.

"I leave in the morning for Orion. Is there anything else that you can tell me about him?"

"What do you know?"

"He is a powerful man who lives in the Beor Mountains. He does not take many students, and kills those who trespass on his lair if he finds them unworthy. And that he trained Galbatorix."

The last part he said quieter than the rest, but he knew her Elvin ears would not tell a difference. She looked at him with a guarded expression.

"There is nothing else I know of Orion."

Eragon nodded his understanding.

"In my absence, should there be need, I would like you to ride Saphira in battle."

Her gaze sharpened on him, but he continued.

"You paid a price greater than your life guarding her egg. There is no one I trust more to protect her."

She looked away, but gave her consent, no doubt the memories she trudged up forcing her to look elsewhere.

"I plan on returning before March. I would like you to be my contact, just so you know that I am alive. The frequency of these contacts…"

But he was cut off.

"Everyday."

He looked up surprised.

"Everyday, just before the sun falls, I shall be here. Scry me then."

"Everyday? Surely there is a more convenient measure for you?"

"Everyday, Shadeslayer, you never know what could go wrong, and I refuse to wait even for a day if there is the slightest hint that you are in trouble."

The Rider gave her a brief smile.

"Very well then. Good night, Arya svit-kona, may the stars watch over you."

"And over you."

He turned abruptly on his heel and left down the short distance to his room. Gathering together a small satchel, he put in bread, the faelnirv Oromis had given him, and a few other necessities. Sadly, the majority of his belongings would have to be left behind on his journey. He unpacked his Rider's clothes. They were made for colder temperatures than his regular clothes. He took a woolen cloak from his dresser before he heard a knock.

Opening the door, he was surprised to find the Elvin princess he just left at the door. He motioned for her to come in, but she hesitated.

"No, it is not necessary. I knew you must be getting ready for the journey, so I came to give you this. It is an Elvin cloak, designed especially to keep warm in the cold winters of Ellesmera, and I know the cold of the Beor Mountains."

"Thank you, Arya svit-kona."

A hint of a smile graced her features before she turned and left the premises. Hesitantly, he put the cloak on and sighed, it was warm. And in fact, it was probably enchanted to keep the cold out as well.

Eragon finished packing without a hitch, a smile gracing his features. She had given him a cloak.

Saphira snorted her derision at him for being such a lovesick fool. But he did not care. Morning came relatively early for him. He braced and readied himself, taking a bath in the wash basin as he probably would not be able to for a long time. Hitching his sword to his side, he gathered up his belongings went outside. A small contingency of people gathered around. Nasuada was the first to express her good wishes, then a round of others began as well. Arya stood, her eyes surprisingly downcast.

"You will need a horse." She said abruptly.

The Rider nodded, "I was heading to the stables after."

She shook her head, "I have an old friend for you. He is eager to be on an adventure."

A smile broke loose, and Eragon immediately looked for his horse.

Folkvir. I have a need of you.

A shimmery white Elvin horse began to run up to him, immediately attaching himself to the Rider's side.

"Thank you, Arya svit-kona. How did he get here?"

"I brought him down with me when I came to the Varden most recently. I was taking supplies with me, and he seemed to want to be here."

Folkvir neighed and stepped closer.

"Although it seems he has grown quite attached to you, Shadeslayer."

"I cannot imagine why, though I am grateful."

"It is not so hard to imagine."

His gaze sprung to hers, but she had already left to Saphira's side. Eragon watched as she lay a gentle hand on the dragon's arm, a gesture of comfort for losing her Rider again.

He walked over to his sapphire friend.

Stay safe, little one. Should anything happen, not even Orion could stop me from tearing down his mountain.

I know, and I shall stay safe. Arya will know of my progress every day.

Eragon lay a hand on her snout, leaning his small forehead to her considerably larger one.

Go, little one, before I change my mind about letting you go.

Eragon pulled away, and turned to Arya.

"Do not fear, Eragon Shadeslayer, I shall keep her safe."

"Saphira is the only one I trust to keep you safe as well, Arya svit-kona. You have a knack for getting into sticky situations."

The ground rumbled as Saphira began to laugh good heartedly.

"You should be more careful around the one who is going to be updating Saphira on your progress. You never know when she might pick you up off the ground."

He chuckled, "And here I thought you could not jest."

Her expression never faltered, but it was her eyes that were amused.

"Who said anything about jesting?"

The sun rose even higher and Folkvir neighed his discontent in having the sun rise too much. Speed was of the essence. One last long look at his dragon, and the princess he hoped so desperately to be his princess, and he was off on his white stallion.

He could already feel the pangs of separation from his dragon, but it had to be done. Saphira's last cry of despair rang true through his head as they cleared the distance of a comfortable mental link. He shut off their link, ignoring them only for utmost circumstances.

To the tallest peak of the Beor Mountains, Folkvir.

He gave his assent and sped off in the right direction. Eragon was grateful for the cloak, it had an uncanny ability to keep him warm, it was definitely enchanted.

Folkvir came to a halting stop before turning a sharp left. It was taking them off the main road, but a large crash to his right signaled a boulder had just blocked the way. A rock slide was starting and Eragon was stuck riding on the brink of it. Folkvir turned his gaze to see the rocks piling up, but he did not slow down. If it was possible, Eragon believed his trusty Elvin steed ran even faster. The sun was shining bright in his eyes, he was heading west and sunset was about to begin. Even so, the Rider could make a faint outline of a cliff running out.

Folkvir, stop.

But the horse did not listen. The boulders behind him were closing in and Folkvir knew it too. If they stayed, they died. The Elvin stallion jumped. Eragon could see the faint outline of land, but at their current pace, there was no way they could make. He slowed their descent so they would land on a twisty pathway at the base of the first mountain. It would only take a few hours before they were back on the main road. Folkvir's feet hit the ground hard, but he did not break. The horse gave one last look at where they were and sped off in the right direction once again.

Eragon patted the horse's neck, eliciting a grunt of appreciation.

Night had fallen when Folkvir decided he needed a rest. Conveniently, he stopped near a river with clean water and hardy grass that survived the night's chill. Eragon built a fire and paused.

Creating a small hovel of water, he scryed her. She was pacing impatiently around her room in front of the mirror, muttering something under her breath. He could not catch it, but she was definitely cursing someone.

"Arya svit-kona."

Her eyes darted to his.

"Where were you? You are late."

"Forgive me, Folkvir and I sped through a rock slide and then jumped off a cliff, and sailed through the air and landed on a nice road a few hours away from the main one."

"Please tell me you are joking."

"Afraid not, Arya svit-kona, although, magic did play its part."

"What do you mean? Is Orion trying to kill you already?"

His eyebrows furrowed, "No, I simply meant magic carried us through the air and landed on the pathway. Why? Does he tend to kill this early?"

"I would not know. I have never looked into him more than necessary."

"Why not?"

"Why?"

"I merely thought you would be interested in a magician as powerful as Orion."

"Orion is not simply a magician. He is a killer as well. I do not like the Queen's suggestion that you go to him."

"It was the simplest solution into gaining the power for our purpose."

"Simple does not make it right."

She looked away, "Enough of this. You are safe. Forgive me if I leave the details of exactly how to your dear dragon. She has been flying incessantly outside my window. I could barely think without the flapping of her wings interrupting me."

"Ah, so you were not cursing me as you paced."

She let out a hint of a laugh, "Do not be so sure, I was most definitely cursing you for not contacting me sooner."

"It shall not happen again, Arya svit-kona. May the stars watch over you."

"And over you."

Eragon gave her one last look before waving his hand over the water. He splashed face in an effort to clean it, but instantly regretted it. The water was ice cold, good for drinking, absolutely great for frostbite. He hid underneath his cloak and started a fire instead. Folkvir finished his grass hunting and lay as close to Eragon as possible. The Elvin horse seemed to know how important body heat and proximity to the fire was.

Rest, Folkvir, let me watch over you as you have for me.

The white steed snorted his assent, but closed his eyes and began to breath deeply. Eragon looked at his surroundings, a wolf's howl brought him out of his thoughts. Though here, it was most likely a Shrrg, much more vicious than wolves. The Rider set the perimeters to alert him if anyone or anything came in his direction. He stood watch until the wee hours of the morning, his sleep getting to him as soon as the sun began to light the dark.

Folkvir rose himself off the ground, successfully taking Eragon's resting place away from him. The Rider fell over on his back.

You did that on purpose.

He did not openly deny it, and the Rider laughed. Taking his few belongings, and a nice, long, cold drink from the river, Eragon lifted himself into the saddle and let the sleep take over him as Folkvir ran towards the tallest peak in the Beor Mountains. If anything was going to happen, he had the utmost confidence in Folkvir to wake him from his slumber.

They had ridden nigh under a day when the Elvin steed came to an abrupt halt. The force of the stop jolted Eragon awake, he looked around him, but nothing out of the ordinary came into view.

Folkvir neighed, grabbing his attention, and Eragon caught faint glimpses of his apprehension. He looked around, once again, before letting his mind wander into the forests. The Rider froze, not a few hundred meters from where they stopped, two belligerent Shrrgs brushed his mind. Eragon began to push them away from their position, but they would not heed. These were hell bent on killing something, and this time, it was them. Eragon pushed deeper into their mind, forcing their compliance, but it did not happen. They came out on to the pathway, their eyes glazed over, and once last time, he pushed harder against their conscience, using their true name to control them, but they did not heed. Eragon's mind hit a barrier in theirs, these beasts were sent by someone especially to kill them. They would not stop at escape, nay, these beasts would only be content with his and Folkvir's death.

The threatening growls increased as they circled nearer and neared to the Elvin stallion. But Folkvir stood his ground, waiting for an opportunity.

Stay, Eragon commanded, let me protect you.

The Rider dismounted and drew Brisingr out. The sword began to flame menacingly as Eragon braced himself for attack. It came as quickly as he anticipated it to. The first larger Shrrg pounced at him from the side. Rapidly moving in front of Folkvir, Eragon sliced his sword through the air. Fighting men, he was used to, but animal, not like this, and not up close. He was far better versed with a bow and arrow than close combat. His lack of ability was shown soon enough when the claws of the second raked across his face. Blood splattered on the snow, and continued to cascade down his face. It was a deep cut.

Knowing his swordplay was becoming futile, Eragon deftly retrieved his bow and arrow gifted from Queen Islanzadi herself. The quiver he kept on Folkvir, knowing from his hunting experience, he only had two shots to take if he was going to survive. Removing two arrows, he avoided another slash and baited his targets.

His gaze narrowed as it always did when hunting, they followed him backwards away from Folkvir. He cocked an arrow, waiting from one to spring. He did not have to wait long. The second Shrrg grew impatient and leaped into the air. Eragon let the arrow sail towards his target, piercing its head through the inside of its mouth. Its death was instantaneous. The beast left let out a wail before it too, in a frenzy for its lost companion charged him. This time, the Rider aimed for its heart, and sent the arrow on its merry way through the red beating of the menace. Both lay dead at his feet. Folkvir padded to his side, a gently nuzzle on his arm. A way of thanks, and a plea to keep going. But darkness fell.

They rode off for a little longer, the sting of the cold hitting his open cut. There was no risk of infection, and who knew what could possibly require the Rider to save his strength. An hour or so later, the snow began to come down harder, before they were in a blizzard. They found a cave, a very lucky find in the mountains. A preliminary check showed no signs of animals, merely a bear far too deep in hibernation to have an intention of leaving its depths to attack them in the night. He dented the rocks on the ground, and filled it with snow to melt, creating a puddle of water.

Wanting to rest, he hastily cast the spell, and waiting for the Elvin princess to shimmer into view. He heard the faint tapping of her fingers on some surface. She was looking elsewhere dejectedly, seemingly not realizing he was here.

"Arya svit-kona."

Her gaze cut to his, sharply, swiftly.

"The snowfall turned into a blizzard here, we have found a cave, and we are staying there tonight. We are safe. Please relay that to Saphira."

Her eyebrows furrowed, "You are hurt."

Barzul. He should have healed himself before speaking with her.

"It looks worse that it really is."

"Have you even seen what it really looks like?"

"Well…no."

"Allow me to inform, Shadeslayer, that it looks like Saphira sliced your face open with her talons. A run in with a bear who caught a lucky break, I presume."

He shook his head, "Two Shrrgs looking for a meal."

"They took you by surprise? Folkvir usually does not miss those things."

"No, we had ample time to prepare."

"Then? You could not turn them away. I hardly think one who was able to hold his own in a battle for mental dominance against two Shades could not turn away two dog like beasts."

"They were not open to mental dissuasion."

Her eyes flickered between his, "Orion has turned even the beasts against you."

"We do not know if it is…"

"Who else could it be? Murtagh and Galbatorix have no clue as to where you trek, and between the two, only one is powerful enough to actually pull off the feat of controlling them from where you are."

"I know."

"He is trying to kill you."

"I know this as well."

"Then why do you continue?"

"I have no choice, you know this as well as I."

"What I know, Shadeslayer, is that in order to claim the power to destroy an evil tyrant, in order to keep yourself from being killed in battle, you are sending yourself to a place where you are far more likely to be killed."

"I never kept myself from being killed in battle, Arya svit-kona. I do not think, nor do I have the audacity to hope, that I will survive after my encounter with Galbatorix. I will take him down, but more likely than not, I will follow."

"That will not happen. I cannot allow it."

The fierceness in her voice reminded him of a tiger prowling the forests protecting its loved ones. He smiled at the thought, Arya the Tigress.

"How is Saphira?"

"How do you think she is?"

He looked down exasperated.

"Arya svit-kona, please do not think me, of all people, me, blind to the pangs of separation. I am well aware of exactly how it feels to miss a part of your soul. But I have no choice. Yes, I more than likely walk to my death. Yes, I am broken and lost without Saphira. But no, I do not have a choice. I must win this battle, and I must kill the king. That is my duty, and nothing shall shake me from it."

She hesitated before speaking again.

"Forgive me, Eragon, I know of your burden. Saphira is not well, she has been irate and depressed lately. And frankly speaking, she is not the only one."

"Is Nasuada having trouble?"

His inquiry left a hollow look in her eyes.

"It was not Nasuada I was speaking about."

"Then who?"

But his question was left unanswered.

"It is getting late even here, where you are, far more late I imagine. Heal yourself, Shadeslayer. I do not think I can stop Saphira or myself, for that matter, from coming after you if we see such an injury again."

"Ah, I knew it. Both of you would travel far and wide, simply to see my injured, is it not?"

"Another jest?"

Eragon nodded, a smile played on his lips, but it was not returned with one.

"I trekked across Alagaesia to find you, Eragon, and you were not injured then. To see you again, alone, unprotected, in a far more dangerous place, with a man hell bent on killing you is taking all my self control from coming after you again."

A twinge of annoyance crept through him.

"I am not the incompetent boy you had to save from the Twins those years ago, Arya svit-kona. I am capable of protecting myself."

A hint of sadness and even calm acceptance came into her striking emerald eyes.

"If you learn nothing else from this journey of yours, learn that I had many reasons for coming after as I did, but I assure you, none were that you were incapable of protecting yourself."

The silence grew heavy between them, as if the entire atmosphere somehow began to weigh in on them.

"Your reasons…"

"Are a topic to be talked about when you are not miles away, caught in a blizzard, but rather when you return to the safety and comfort of familiarity."

"Surely you mean, if I return."

"When you return, Eragon, even if I have to bring you back myself."

And with that she cut off the connection, leaving the Rider in a state of more confusion than before. Folkvir nudged himself over closer, passing his need to sleep without what the Rider interpreted as 'incessant racket of two legs talking'. After assigning the proper wards to alert him if his perimeter had been breached, they both fell fast asleep.

The next week or so passed with little incidence, only the dismal journey of white days and moonless nights. Of course, he had pondered the question on whether blind men saw white or black, and whether or not they could even know the difference between the two. Arya attributed his question to the insanity instilled by harsh weather and the impending confrontation with the ever-elusive Orion.

Eragon's Elvin eyes saw past the white barrier a few times, looking to the top of the peak. It grew larger and larger, but still remained far out of his reach. Finally, they reached the bottom of a pass. On either side showed a large accumulation of snow that seemed oddly absent in the middle. A large looming cave stood a few miles from the bottom. With grave apprehension, Rider and horse began their trek.

But not for long.

A shake in the ground started an avalanche. The snow quickly threw Folkvir off his balance, and they both went sliding down, closer and closer to the cliff. Eragon felt the inevitable come, but his misery and fear of the afterlife was short lived as his head hit a stone and knocked him out.

The Rider woke with massive headache, almost as if an elf took a club and wacked him across the head.

"Easy, it was a hard fall."

The voice was unrecognizable to him. But the newness jolted him awake, only to be hit by a wave of nausea.

"As I said, easy."

But there was no move to help him or even ease his discomfort.

Eragon thought back, trying to remember how he got here.

The pass, then the avalanche…and then…

"Folkvir!"

Eragon struggled to get out, but his legs could not move out of their own accord. So disoriented was his balance that he fell on the ground, unable to gather his wits about him.

"The horse…" he managed to get out, "is he okay?"

"That Elvin steed was able to hang on to a rock long enough. But a branch pierced its side. I found you both, you were unconscious. The horse was bleeding, and so I left it there."

That voice was horribly impassive, as if it was a nonchalant act. Anger burst through the Rider, a sudden orientation coming through him from the release of adrenaline.

"You could not have healed him? You clearly healed me, magic user."

"Anger at your savior, I suppose I could not care much. No, I did not. I could have. But I did not."

"Why not?" He spat angrily.

A chilling breeze spread through the cave.

"Because I did not care."

Slytha.

The last words the Rider felt before he was put asleep was the apathetic man's reasoning. Any protest died down at the hands of his magic.

Arya…she could not be scryed.

Vakna.

Eragon's eyes shot open. Alarm crossed to him. He should at least be grateful that his life was saved.

Searching the room, he found the black figure hiding in the shadows. His clothes, hair, gloves even down to his eyes were black. If it were not for the white surrounding the color, the Rider would not be able to distinguish the color at all.

"I apologize for not thanking you for saving my life."

"I did not save you for the thanks. You have come here for a purpose."

"This is the top of the Beor Mountains is it not?"

"You were the one searching for the top. It should be here, unless you have a horrible sense of direction."

The Rider sighed again.

"I am looking for Orion."

"I gathered as much, no one else ventures here without that purpose."

"Why only that purpose?"

"What other purpose is there?

"To reach the top of the world?"

"Those who reach the top only have farther to fall."

"Everyone must fall?"

"Only those who rise."

"You are not an optimist are you?"

"Optimism and pessimism are for those who have no understanding of the world. And without that understanding they will always believes that it will go right or wrong."

"Then what are you?"

"That is unnecessary for you to know."

"I need to meet Orion. Where can I find him?"

"You already have."

The Rider jumped to his feet.

"Orion –elda. I require your assistance, your training."

"For what purpose do you want to embark in training that you may or may not survive?"

"I must defeat the king."

A chilling laugh coursed through the air.

"To defeat a king, to commit regicide, how apropos."

The room grew silent again.

"Will you train me?"

"Oh yes, dear Eragon Shadeslayer. I shall."

The Rider's disbelief was evident.

"I thought it would be harder than this."

Orion chuckled darkly, "I will enjoy training you, for I will enjoy breaking you."

And with that he turned and left the room.

"The woman you scry, scry her now. Tell her you will not be contacting her until your training is complete. The princess of the Elves shall not be pleased, I imagine, but that news will come to her more pleasing than when she woke in Gil'ead."

"How do you know of her identity? Her history? No one knows except those from her home."

But he had already gone, his words echoing in the long passageway. Eragon looked around the room, his head full of questions he was too afraid to ask.

A water basin caught his eye and he walked over.

"Draumr kopa."

The sight of a room in disarray caught his attention. Incessant yelling could be heard through the room.

"What do you mean 'I cannot go after him?'"

"Exactly what I said daughter."

"He promised he would scry me every night to let me know his condition. He has not, there is something amiss. He is not safe!"

"The Rider is not going to a safe place. You know this."

Queen Islanzadi's voice seemed to be one of calming nature, but it only served to rile her daughter more.

"He should not have gone in the first place!"

"It is his duty."

"It never should have been him in the first place!"

Eragon's heart contracted, did she think him unworthy of being a Rider? Her mother asked the question for him.

"Of course he is worthy of being a Rider! There is no one worthier of being a Rider than he is."

"Then why this argument? You know what he has to do."

"I cannot lose him, mother. Any part of him."

"If he lost an arm, then yes I suppose it would be rather hard to defeat a king."

"That is not what I meant and you know it." Her voice became quieter.

"Daughter, I do not know many things about you."

"He is a kind and gentle soul. A poet at heart, not cold blooded killer, not like me. Not like us Elvin warriors trained to kill from birth."

"He will learn to accept the nature of life."

"I do not want him to accept it. I want him to fight it, I do not ever want him to become like one of us. Do you not understand?"

"You would not have him prepared to face his duty?"

"I would not have him face his duty at all. I would have him shielded from the evils of this world, far away from any danger."

"And why is that?"

"Because…" She stopped herself. "I am sorry. This is not me."

"It is no matter. I can only imagine the stresses of your loss and torture have been piling up as of late. Losing your sanity, even temporarily is not uncommon. I can imagine being around humans has familiarized you with their tendency to, well as they say, snap. Not to mention, the increased burden of protecting a young Rider, and now it seems his dragon in his absence."

Her jaw clenched tighter as her mother continued talking.

"I assure you, keeping Eragon Shadeslayer and Saphira Bjartskular safe and well have been the lessening of my stresses, not a burden. I shall speak with you later mother."

"And of your journey."

"Half a day is all I give you, then I shall leave as soon as the second of our allotted meeting time is past."

"Until then."

"Arya svit-kona."

Her eyes snapped up again, and she tore herself from the mirror, nearly running towards the water basin.

"Where were you? I thought it was clear that every night you would let me know on your progress."

"I ran into a bit of trouble. We found the pass. Orion set an avalanche. I am with Orion now."

Fear crossed her eyes again.

"And?"

"He has agreed to train me."

"So you are safe?"

"Yes."

Silence grew heavy again.

"I am sorry for worrying you."

"You heard my conversation with my mother I presume."

"Just the end. I appreciate your concern for me."

He carefully left any reference unclear, especially the part of her wanting to keep him away from the world. It seemed safer, ignoring it, considering their separation.

Arya seemed to wait for him to speak again, ask any impending questions, and when he remained silent, it was almost of disappointment.

"I shall wait for you message tomorrow. Do not be late again."

He hesitated, "About that, Arya svit-kona."

Her eyebrows raised in response, a deliberate challenge daring to say otherwise.

"Orion will not let me speak with anyone. I cannot contact you any longer, even to let you know if I am safe. This is to be the last communication until the end of my training."

"I cannot allow it. You are the Varden's Rider, our last hope. Should something happen to you, I must know."

Eragon shook his head, "While I may fear the loss of my life here, there is still a chance I may survive intact. However, even in secret if I contact you, he will know, and I will surely lose my life."

"How can you be so certain?"

"He saved me from an avalanche, Arya svit-kona. And knew exactly who you are, and that I had been scrying you. He knows everything I have done since I left for this journey, everything that goes on in this mountain. Even how to control animals far past my imagination. He is not one I would cross lightly…or even heavily for that matter."

"What do you mean, exactly who I am?"

"He knows of your noble birth, Arya svit-kona. He knows everything there is to know about the war and the key players."

"He is an elf, it is no surprise that he knows my identity."

"He knows of your capture in Gil'ead."

Alarm crossed through her.

"You cannot be there any longer, Eragon. You must come home."

The Rider shook his head. "Tell Saphira I love her very much. And Arya svit-kona, may the stars watch over you. Keep safe, wiol ono. Should the time come when you must ride Saphira, merge your mind with hers, and you shall know the intimate details of how she flies and sees. I have no worries to your ability to adapt, however, a dragon's eyesight and abilities will always exceed our two legged bodies."

"I shall. Keep safe, Eragon. May the stars watch over as well. Should there be a need, contact me, and I shall come."

"Should there be a need, I will not be alive by the time you arrive."

"Do not say that."

"Goodbye."

She whispered her farewell before he shut off the connection.

"Have you finished your long and unnecessary conversation?"

Eragon turned to Orion, he was standing the doorway, a bored demeanor taking over. Again, his face was not able to be seen, just a dark shadow with those black eyes boring through.

"I would have given you privacy, but you took far too long."

"How do you know of Arya and her deeds?"

"I watch and listen."

"Cryptic."

Orion chuckled, "Actually it is not. That is exactly what I do."

His face became serious again. "Put on those clothes, there is no need for color."

Eragon looked at the black garments behind him, quickly realizing they were of a very good quality shield like cloth. Thick, heavy, able to withstand lots of cuts.

"Do not think those will protect you here. Those will be shredded to pieces along with your body in the next few months. Let us begin."

The Rider put his clothes on, marveling at how the fit molded to his body perfectly.

"Let us walk. Answer me this. What makes you worthy of the title Shadeslayer?"

Eragon looked baffled, "I killed a Shade."

"Indeed. Should the title then not be Shadekiller. Or even, more specifically, Durzakiller. Why slayer? Do you even know what it means to slay?"

"To kill."

"Ha!" Orion turned on his heels, his face dangerously close and menacing. He backed the Rider into the wall and spat his words. "Nay, to slay means to kill violently or in great numbers. Tell me, did you kill many Shades or just the one."

"The one."

"Yes, and how did you kill him?"

"A sword through the heart."

"Not very violent at all. No multiple slashing, no hacking into pieces, just a simple penetration. How is that deemed worthy of the title Shadeslayer?"

Eragon's breath caught, he never thought to question titles like those. He shook his head, "I do not know."

"You are more worthy of the title manslayer, or even Urgalslayer, but not Shadeslayer."

"Manslayer? I hardly think so, I fought and killed to protect the people."

"By killing them?"

Eragon was speechless once again.

"You may be blinded by the words of the old and respected, or even with your infatuation with the Elvin princess, but hear this loud and clear. You are a killer, you cannot claim to protect the people by killing those who are opposed to your side. What have you done really? Once Saphira hatched for you, you joined the Varden, giving the resistance the ability to now kill in greater numbers rather than their own skirmishes."

"Galbatorix must be stopped! He is an evil tyrant!"

"Says who? You, your father? Arya Drottningu? Oromis, the old elf? Or those of the Varden? Tell me, who says he was a tyrant? Not you. In fact, as a farmboy, Galbatorix was nothing but a king and a leader who kept the peace and resistance at bay."

"His morals are wrong, his rise to power is wrong."

"Not in your time, Eragon manslayer."

"When it happened does not matter. I am a Rider, and I will protect the code I was chosen for."

"What does it even mean to be a Rider?"

"It means to follow the path of good, to make the world a safer, more just environment."

"And who told you this? Oromis? Brom? Saphira, perhaps?"

"It is my words that you are privy to."

"Your words? Then tell me, in your words, how does the path to good involve killing?"

"A necessary act on the way to the greater good."

"And that is where you have been most misguided. Killing is killing, whether you kill a murdered or an innocent. A warrior of the your opposition or even your friend from his money. Murder is murder, killing is killing."

"I refuse to believe that."

Orion's face hardened, "Then tell me why, manslayer, do you feel guilty when killing? I can answer that for you. Because you think it is wrong and your conscience pays the price."

Eragon looked away.

"Shall I tell you why you kill, Rider?"

He stepped away and walked towards a larger armory with shackles from the ceiling.

"You kill to survive. Because if you do not pick up a sword and defend yourself, you will be killed yourself. This is not an optimist or a pessimistic point of view. I am not glorifying the act of killing, and neither am I condemning it. It is simply realistic to kill instead of resigning yourself to your death."

"Then why these questions?"

Orion looked darkly at him, "Today we will find out how wiling you are to survive."

The last thing he felt was the sensation of being thrown against the wall and knocked out.

Water splashed his face, his body was hung by his arms, his legs left untouched. He felt like his face was on fire and he could not place why. He shook his head, writhing underneath the pain, trying to rid himself of the burning sensation. He hissed, increasing his violent movements.

"It's acid. It shall burn quite a lot."

"Get it off! For god's sake, get it off me! It burns, god it burns!"

Orion stood in the corner, "Yes, it does. And you had better get used to it. Acid is what I will use to get you conscious again. Far more effective than water."

Eragon continued to writhe his face in the air, hoping something, anything would cool the pain on his face. But nothing came. Instead, he heard feet moving behind him and a long rope being swung in the air.

His master came into view again, this time with a rope and jagged, menacing blade as ends. It was one made to rip apart bodies.

"The worst part of death is the pain. Conquer pain, and you have conquered death itself."

"That is merely your excuse for torturing me!" Eragon spat him.

"As I said, it will be fun breaking you." The rope flicked in the air, tearing apart the black protective clothes and ripping his body into pieces.

Eragon's screams echoed through the mountains, but nothing…no one…no being of friendly nature or unfriendly, for that matter, could have heard him in the tallest peak of the Beor.

The Rider awoke again, the burning sensation began on his face, this time, however, it dripped through his scars, somewhat new, fresh and pink, but healed, far better than when they were being created.

"Your scarless body will be marred again. I do not care to waste the strength of prettying you. I merely want you fit enough to begin again."

"Why are you doing this?" His words were forced, the pain raking his body.

"Rider, anyone can be strong in a position of strength. Nasuada, Islanzadi, Galbatorix, Oromis, Vrael, Anurin, Brom, Morzan, even you. Only the truly strong are strong in a position of weakness."

"That is your plan then? Beat me to a pulp and see if I can get up again."

"Eragon, you are not your body. If you can, you shall be strong. If you cannot, you shall be like everyone else I have trained."

"Like Galbatorix?"

"You knew I trained him, and yet you came. Ha! I shall have even more fun with you."

"You did not answer my question."

"Galbatorix came to me when his dragon was killed. He was weak and sought the strength to get over that loss. He failed to find his spirit, but power, he did find."

"We begin again." Orion started after a heavy pause, and once again the mountains filled with the screams of a tortured Rider.

Eragon found himself on the bed he first found himself in. His scars remained, all the new ones, they stretched across his torso and back, leaving no area unslashed or jaggedly ripped open.

"Admiring your new appearance?"

"Simply getting used to it."

Orion grunted, "A pretty boy like you would not like to be marked up I suppose."

"You claim to know everything. That woman I was infatuated with, you know it is not infatuation. I am in love with her, and she spurned me. My looks have little meaning to me, now with no one to look good for."

"Arya Drottningu. Who knew? I have trained a few, never a man in love. I wonder if you will stronger or weaker."

"I am curious as to why you left my face completely healed from the acid burning."

"I cannot stand the look of deformed faces. But let me ask you a question. Why are you open with me? Are you not afraid of me telling someone?"

"With all due respect, Orion, you tortured, maimed, burned, and questioned everything I have ever known since my existence as a Rider. But you never once expressed the desire to kick me out or reveal my existence to anyone else. You are, in fact, a loner. Of all the things you have seen, I doubt I am important enough to get you to leave your lair and tell the world of the truths in my head."

"Of that you are right."

A flick of his wrist and acid flew into the Rider's face.

"Bloody hell! I was awake, why would you do that?"

"For fun."

A hand grabbed his shoulder and dragged him to the next room.

"Swordplay is important for survival."

Orion handed Brisingr to him, and then drew his own sword. He moved to strike before Eragon shrunk away.

"Wait! Should we not block our blades?"

"Is that what you did with the elves and Brom?"

"Yes."

"You do not extend that same courtesy to men you have slayed, and I shall not extend the same to you."

A blade came rocketing down and Eragon barely had enough time to block it.

The Rider was good at swordplay, he could handle his own against the elves, but Orion was completely different. He seemed to have the strength of a thousands elves and Eragon could not hold on. He was overwhelmed in seconds, and Orion's sword began to cut his body.

He stopped later, when the Rider crumpled through the floor, bleeding profusely. A raw power swept through the Rider, making him cry out in even more pain. It was not until after did Eragon realize he was being healed. Only, there was no consideration of comfort. Orion's magic was not soft, it was massive, and his body was healed quickly, except for the scars. But even when the deed was good, and exponential amount of magic took its toll on the receiver.

"How are you so powerful? So fast?"

Orion waved his hand and Eragon was dangling from mid air, a surprising hand around his throat, choking him.

"Your real question is how to become this powerful."

The gasps for air and the noise he made was someone deciphered to mean yes. Orion let him go, letting the Rider fall five feet to the ground. The sudden surprise of being let go had him sprawling on the ground, coughing for air.

"We will get there. For now, we train."

And so they did, Eragon alternated between sparring, torture, archery under…distress to say the least. Orion whipped him and still expected him to hit his mark. He got better, undoubtedly, the pain a reinforcement for hitting the target well. He quickly realized even with his Elvin abilities, he was still as weak as a lamb compared to Galbatorix, and clearly not even a speck in the air for Orion.

Eragon felt he missed his Rider's clothes, but as time went on, as the weeks went by, he grew comfortable in his black garb. They hid him well in the shadows, and what Orion taught him is not be seen. To be seen means to be attacked, compromised, even killed. Or at the very least tortured. Eragon walked in the darkness, his eyes accustomed to lack of light. It was easier to not be seen. Easier to not be heard…easier to not be at all. The torture and cuts and scars taught him to separate himself from his body. The body was the means to an end, not the final or end result. It was something to be sacrificed. He soon felt he could not care about the pain his body felt, it was a vessel for a different purpose.

And with the pain, he learned to separate himself from his mind. It often screamed out in pain, begging it to stop. But he, Eragon, he silenced it. He was not his mind, it was just an added tool that needed to be brought under his control. His, not Eragon the body, or Eragon the mind, him, a being entirely separate of all. The Rider was finally able to step back into a different conscious and observe his own body like a tree. A rare form of metacognition where he became able to observe himself outside of the initial perception of himself.

The sound of a whip and the tearing of skin echoed, but that was the only sound greeting the mountains that day. Eragon stayed silent, his eyes vacant and his body still.

"Your body does not twitch."

"Pain is part of a body, and I am not it."

"You do not feel pain."

"Pain is the sensation of my body, felt by my mind, and I am not my mind either."

"Then what, pray tell, are you?"

"I do not know what I am, but I can tell you what I am not."

Orion paused. He walked around the Rider, contemplating his words.

"What is going on through your mind now?"

"I have silenced it, there is nothing there."

"Utterly and completely."

"Yes. I think nothing, I feel nothing."

"Good. Come with me."

The next whip cut his hands from the shackles, giving just enough blood to slip through. The Rider landed on his feet despite the blood coating the floor, or even his great loss in energy. He stood, his emotions ever the same. Again, that raw power swept through his body, the pain silenced, and he was healed.

"What are you, Eragon Shadeslayer? You have told you no longer know. You once said a Rider."

His answer was quick and brief. "A Rider is a title, not the essence of who I am."

"And what do you think that essence is?"

"I do not know."

"What is fire?"

"Brisingr."

"Wrong. What is brisingr?"

"Fire."

"Wrong again."

"I do not understand. Brisingr is fire in the Ancient Language, the true essence of everything."

"Says the Elves. Says magicians. But not you. Says those who told you."

"Then what is fire?"

Orion stood in the center of a room and took two metal rods, he began scraping them together, the sparks flying and hitting embers creating fire.

"Did I say brisingr?"

"No."

"Did I use magic?"

"No."

"If I did not use magic, how was able to make fire, yet not use brisingr? If I was to make fire and brisingr was fire, how did I use one and not the other?"

"Brisingr is not fire."

"Yes, now you are correct."

"What is fire?"

Eragon pondered the question. What indeed was fire? What was light for that matter? What did the entire world revolve around? There was no one that said light everything the sun needed to shine, or even to start a fire in the woods, or even the wind or waves. There was nothing, no one to regulate these things.

"I see the wheels are turning. What is fire?"

"Energy. Fire is energy."

"Good. Now what is brisingr?"

"A word to capture fire, a word used to control and manipulate fire."

"A word to control and manipulate energy. Now what is energy?"

"A source of power, one that allows us to live."

"Do you use magic to live? To breathe? To sleep?"

"No."

"What does that mean?"

The Rider's eyes flashed in understanding.

"There is a different source of energy. A different kind of energy."

"What is magic?"

"Energy."

"What is the force that keeps you alive?"

"Energy."

"What do we know of energy?"

"It is constant throughout the world."

"Yes, Rider Eragon, and if it is constant, what does that mean? What do you do when you say brisingr and fire appears?"

"I have manipulated energy."

"How?"

"I changed something into fire."

"Specifics." Orion spat at him.

"I changed the magic in myself into fire."

"And how do you live?"

"Something converts energy into something else that allows me to live. Something different than the magic in me."

"And what can you do with that energy?"

"Convert it."

"Yes. These bodies we use to walk and live and sleep and eat are nothing but machines. They have their own mechanisms of using and converting energy. But they have no mind, there are inefficient creatures. They waste energy, waste thousands upon thousands of times of energy we have never dreamed possible. And we have access to that energy. It is in a different form, yes, but we can convert it, and convert it beautifully we can."

Orion walked through some more passages before coming to a room, surprisingly bereft of anything.

"You see nothing here. It is good."

Orion paused.

"If you are able to master this next exercise, I will have no more to teach you."

The Rider nodded. Time was of the essence and it was essential he complete this task. Although, it all seemed futile in the end. He had a purpose, why that was his purpose he did not know. But he made a promise, and he was a man of honor. He would keep it.

"The body is made up of individual cells, individual living things with their own ability to capture and use energy. To sustain themselves, they use the food we consume and convert it. However, they are inefficient, they do not use all the energy we provide them. There is a loss of energy, in a form that they can no longer convert in their mindless beings, something, however, that we can do. What is that energy source?"

"Heat. Our bodies produce heat."

"Yes. Access it, use the heat lost in your cells, convert it, and you shall have a ceaseless amount of energy. Your body is always producing heat, millions of times over, billions of times over. You shall never feel a loss of magic if you convert the heat your body does not use. You shall not even feel tired."

Eragon nodded, still unsure as to how to do it.

"Oromis was a smart elf. He taught you the basics of meditation. Find that source, find the pathway and I shall teach you how to convert it later. I shall give you 12 hours. Should you not, I will kill you for wasting my time."

"A direct threat."

Orion chuckled, "I grow tired of you. I wish to be left in peace." And he left the room.

Eragon descended deep into the depths of his body. He left his mind, left his body and somehow look to see the blood flowing through his arteries and retreating through his veins. He saw the pump of his heart, the growing of his lungs through every breath. But it was not enough. There was something more. He descended deeper, looked closer. And he could nearly see a group of cells. His abdomen was filled with muscles, constantly using energy to contract and expand. He descended deeper, looking for what he needed to see, and there it was. The loss of energy from the breaking down of a ring like molecule. The body was inefficient, half the energy went to it, and the other was lost. He concentrated hard, trying to capture it. But he failed and did so again and again. He found the source, and that was all Orion asked of him.

The Rider sat and waited for his master of sorts. He simply basked in the knowledge that he had nothing to do for the next two to three hours left. He knew, that a good Rider, should take this time to meditate further and deeper into the subconscious or even think of the next plan once he returned in the next few months. But no, he no longer found the superficial meditation techniques Oromis taught him to be useful in relaxing the mind. In all honesty, feeling pain was the most calming sensation for him. Pain served to show that his growth, his ability to put emotions and sensation past him to see the truth plain and simple.

Would Saphira be proud of me?

It was an honest question. But there should be no anger from his dragon, he had set out on a task and accomplished it…nearly.

"Have you finished?"

Orion's voice came from the shadows. There were not any lights in his house, but the Rider could not care. Darkness suited him.

"Yes, Orion, I have."

The elf nodded. "Good, phase II, capturing the energy."

Using the energy was easy enough, he just had to find the release before it dissipated too much and convert into something else. After a while, his ability to do so increased a hundredfold, and so on and so forth until even his body burned with the use of such raw power. A feeling he grew accustomed to, one he even reveled in.

But that was not the final lesson, that was reserved for being able to do so with distractions. In the battlefield, under pain, under mental and physical attacks and even torture.

Their last duel had the Rider using enough energy that would have killed himself ten times over, but he was fine, not tired from his magical use. Rather, simply bleeding from every inch of his body.

"There is nothing more I can teach you."

Those final words from Orion were uttered when Eragon had him by the throat hanging in mid air. His eyes were a dark lifeless brown. His actions those of a heartless killer. His gaze, his mind, his vision, hearing, smell heightened from the adrenaline. His body was covered in blood and underneath lay another layer of thicker muscles. He was not nearly as lean as he was before, not a man in a child's body. He was barely eighteen, yet aged far beyond. As a human, he looked in his twenties – a clean cut face, dark brown, albeit shorter and far more kempt hair. Muscles eluding to the dangerous power he beheld, and even gait of ruthlessness in his walk. He let the power cease through him as Orion came crashing down.

The Rider turned and walked away with an inclination of his head. A mark of understanding of his dismissal. Orion came to his quarters minutes later, handing him different fine, thick black garments.

"Wear them however you want."

Eragon nodded his appreciation.

"Will you wait for morning? Or does tonight suit you?"

"Tonight. I prefer the dark."

A look of approval seemed to pass through the elder elf, but he remained nonchalant.

"Meet me outside in an hour."

Eragon changed, packing him small belongings into bag of some sorts. He had since acquired different weapons. A sword was not ideal for distance fighting, and an arrow took time and had little control once it was released. Orion had specifically trained him in the art of the rope dart, only with a far bigger and more deadly blade attached to it. Now, with a flick of a wrist, the Rider could reduce an entire platoon to headless creatures. He wrapped the weapon across his torso.

A strange feeling emerged within him as he walked towards the cave entrance. One of almost longing and excitement. He pushed it down, clearing his mind. It was his mind's emotion, not his. And therefore, it was a weak one.

Orion stood outside, leading a familiar horse towards Eragon.

"Folkvir." The horse rushed to his side neighing and nudging his former companion.

"I thought you said you killed him."

Orion looked thoughtfully at the horse before giving him his answer.

"I once cared about the world."

"Why did you change then?"

Orion gave him a hard look.

"It is easier to feel nothing when you only feel pain. That is what I have taught you. To feel nothing, not pain, not happiness, not sadness, not anger, just nothing. And with your emotions out of the question, can you stand to rise to true power."

"Did I break, Orion, have you broken me?"

"I can do many things Rider Eragon, but to break a broken man is even beyond me. The world broke you, Death broke you, Fear broke you, Fate broke you, even Love."

"How can you tell I was broken?"

"You are the only student I taught who able to master the ability to separate yourself from you mind that quickly. Only those who nothing left to live for excel in that area."

"Is that a compliment?"

"An observation."

"May you permit me to ask one final question?"

"Of course."

"What do you look like? You walk in shadows, hide your face from me, but mostly yourself."

Orion removed his mask, letting his face see the light of the day. He was handsome elf, jet black hair, ruthless features, but almost kind if the hardened beacons of nonchalance could be silenced. It was a perfect face, save for a scar running through the middle. And it seemed, he bore a unique resemblance to Oromis.

"Orion is the name of Oromis' twin brother, the one he banished from Du Weldonvarden centuries ago. I am that brother."

"Can I ask the reason?"

"There were many reasons. Perhaps the first and foremost would be jealousy of what I was and what he was not. A Rider he was, extraordinarily powerful he was not. Among Riders yes, but not more powerful than me. As we grew older and the more cracks in the system became prominent, I was an advocate of change, and he…he did not want to. I spoke out against him in an effort to see a better world, and took it as a personal insult. To add salt to the injury, once I was able to step back beyond the limitations of the mind and body, my nonchalance he looked as a threat, and so he and Evandar had me banished from the Elves, and so I came here, seeking the truth and succeeding."

Eragon processed the information, understanding sibling rivalry to a much greater extent than he though possible.

"Why did you help Galbatorix?"

"The old system had to be destroyed, it was weak."

"Why did you help me?"

"To fix the current system."

"So you do care."

"Nay, Eragon. I cared. I promised one long ago that I would do everything in my power to ensure the rightful progression of the world. And when she died at the hands of Galbatorix during his rise, I waited till the right student came."

"And now?"

"Now you defeat him, and if you stray from the path, I shall send someone else to rid the world of you."

"Goodbye Orion, I am grateful to you."

He nodded and covered his face once again. The Rider mounted Folkvir and he motioned for the Elvin steed to carry them down. Dawn was rising when Folkvir needed rest. They stopped near a small waterfall area. It was half melting, but the water was clean and the horse needed a good long drink and rest. Eragon pulled up to a small ditch in the ground. He pulled water into hole.

"Draumr kopa." The view of Arya svit-kona's room shimmered into view.

He could hear pacing from nearby.

"Arya svit-kona."

A pause, a heavy silence before a few clumsy steps and she came into view. Her face, by the fates her face was more beautiful to him in that very moment than he had ever seen before. But he closed off those emotions. She had broken him, and that was the end of it.

"Eragon." She breathed his name, as if containing herself for all this time. "How are you?"

His eyebrows rose, there was no answer to that. To be meant to be something mentally or physically, and he was neither. But he gave the socially correct answer.

"I am well. You? Saphira?"

"We are well. Are you coming back?"

"Nearly a week's ride. The Varden?"

"Murtagh did attack, but luckily we were able to create an illusion of you instead of me on Saphira. And Saphira warded them off with her superior flying skills. We are held in Belatona. No other advancements have been made."

"Islanzadi and the elves in Gil'ead."

"They have held as well."

"Good, I shall arrive shortly."

He moved to wave his hand across the image, but Arya's voice stopped him. She seemed to swallow nervously.

"I trust you are…fine."

"Yes."

She looked away, "You seem different."

"Your lack of time with me must have clouded your judgment."

Her eyes narrowed.

"What would you have me tell Saphira?"

"That I miss her and will join her soon."

"That is all?"

"Is there anything else you wished me to tell her?"

"Eragon, is something the matter? And what are you wearing?"

He glanced down at his black clothes, not understanding her problem.

"I have your cloak, if that is what you mean. I shall return it upon my arrival."

"That is not my concern."

"Then what seems to be the matter?"

"You have not…"

"I have not what?"

"Smiled, Shadeslayer, you have not smiled."

She half expected a smile to grace his features, but when none came, she was even more thoroughly disappointed. That admittance, it seemed, took much more out of her than expected. As if he had failed her somehow, failed her by not giving her what she wanted.

"Forgive me Arya svit-kona. I am simply not in the mood. Perhaps when I return."

The Elvin princess nodded her consent, turning away quickly.

"When shall you arrive?"

"As I said, a week or so."

"The path is dangerous, I expect updates on your progress."

"There is no need for it. I can move faster without having to stop and tell you my position."

"Nevertheless, the road is dangerous, and you never know when Orion may try something again."

"Arya svit-kona, I can defeat Orion should it come it that."

Her eyebrows furrowed, "What do you mean 'defeat Orion'?"

Eragon sighed deeply, annoyed at her lack of belief in himself. "I can defeat Orion if I should will it. But he has enough reason to not want to kill me. And even if he did, he taught me well enough that I can defeat him. Is that a satisfactory answer?"

Fear seemed to instill in her, fear and pain shone in her eyes. Had she always been this expressive? Or was his newfound perception tearing the veil off of his eyes. She seemed easy to read, easy to break down. He remembered what he felt for her before, before the torture, before his changing. He remembered feeling love for her.

What was love anyway? Just an emotion, one that had no part in his world, and certainly not in his future. It was a fragment of his mind.

But there was also something else, she was a friend to him. And friendship stood strongly with his masters, both Oromis and Orion, brothers torn apart by this betrayal. Arya would undoubtedly feel betrayed, that could no occur. If she felt betrayed, Islanzadi would pull back into the forests leaving the Varden open for attack and Eragon needed a strong alliance to pull this feat off.

"Every night then, Arya svit-kona. I shall see you." He relented, "Is there a more convenient time for you?"

"Nay." She seemed relieved to not have to convince him.

"Before I leave during the night then, I shall inform you of my progress."

"Before you leave during the night?" was her swift reply.

"I prefer the night, Arya svit-kona." And with that he waved his hand before a protest could leave the elf's mouth and soundly rested with Folkvir. Dawn turned to day, and day turned to dusk, and dusk awoke the Elvin horse. He understood his master's need for the darkness. And he seemed to enjoy the cool wind on his face. They left promptly, not waiting for the beasts of the night to know of their presence, little disturbance as that may have been.

They stopped near a river, the same one Eragon had to cross when first finding the Varden. The same one causing Murtagh to reveal himself as Morzan's son, and that same one where he saved Arya's life from a torture miniscule to his own. The mountain fortress was in ruins, the only people there were those stragglers trying to make ends meet. And Eragon, well, it was night, and no one would see them there. Folkvir took a long drink, letting the cool clean water sking down his parched throat. They left after, the movement from inside the mountains alerting them that they should not be here. Dawn came again, and then dusk, and they rested when the world was awake.

A hand over the water and the Elvin princess's image arose in the screen.

He moved to speak, but found he was beaten to it.

"Nasuada and the Varden are anticipating your arrival. Saphira is on edge. It is taking all my willpower to keep her here."

"Tell them I do not want to make a big scene. I wish to quietly enter, preferably during the night."

"And Saphira?"

"Tell her I miss her and cannot wait to see her, but to come find me is to uncover my position to the world and is dangerous for the both of us, especially her and the Varden."

"She could have you here in a day."

"Feinster was taken in a day, it can fall in a day."

Arya nodded her consent.

"I trust you are feeling better than before."

"I am sorry, I cannot imagine what was wrong me before."

Her eyes fell a little lower. "Very well, I shall talk to you tomorrow."

And so the rest of their journey fell into curt messages. Simple updates of where they were and how long it would take and finally the Rider's eyes rested upon Belatona. His mind reached out for those familiar presences and he immediately found a distressed dragon's.

Saphira!

A howl of happiness greeted him. It shot through his link, powerfully, but much less painfully than Orion's method. Folkvir nearly reared back from the force of her enthusiasm, but he kept on forward, eager to back in the safety of comfortable stables. The gate opened and like a shade in the night, Eragon galloped into the fortress. Saphira landed next to him, staring deftly at him before wrapping him up in her long neck.

I have miss you, Little one.

And I have you.

That missing link finally found its match, and the Rider immediately felt Saphira's thoughts and emotions course through his.

What is wrong, little one?

Why do you persist to think something is wrong with me?

I feel your emotions when our links connect. Why do I feel nothing now?

I am fine, Saphira. There is nothing to worry about.

She moved to speak again, refusing to let go.

We shall talk in the morning, Saphira. I am tired and in a need of a good shower.

"Welcome back, Shadeslayer."

A velvet Elvin maiden's voice greeted him. One far too familiar to him.

He turned with the usual Elvin greeting, and found it returned promptly. She seemed to take in his new appearance, giving him the once over with his new look. Her eyes lingered on his face and chest and legs, somewhat surprised at the hardened look in his eyes. Before, he perceived, there must have been some emotion. Now, there was none.

"I no longer go by that name."

"Shadeslayer?"

"Yes."

Her eyebrows furrowed, "Very well, Shur'tugal. I shall speak with you at a more apropos time."

Eragon nodded.

"I am in great need of a bath."

"I shall walk with you to the lake then."

He glanced at Arya, before shrugging his shoulders in nonchalance.

"Very well."

Taking his belongings from Folkvir, he sent him to the stables for some good rest, kissed Saphira good night, and made his way to the lake, the Elvin princess hot on his heels.

"Is there something you wished to speak with me of?"

Her eyes were downcast. She stopped abruptly, waiting for him to halt as well.

"Nay, there is nothing to talk about. Not any longer."

She slowly walked towards him and laid a cool, gentle hand on his cheek. It took all his effort not to wince, and even then, she could tell he had stiffened. Arya narrowed her eyebrows before tentatively pulling away, her artistic hand only a feather against his skin.

"Forgive me, Arya svit-kona, it will take some time to get used normal physical contact again."

"Orion marred your face." It was a statement, not a question, or even an educated guess. There was little doubt in her mind as to what he went through.

"It has healed."

She gave him a hard look before retreating her hand to her own possession.

"All but your eyes, Eragon." And she abruptly left him by the water bank.

Eragon peeled his clothes off, missing the dark, concealing fabric against his skin. He felt raw, open, exposed without them. As if unknown elements were privy to his body that held so much of his experience on it. He waded into the water, the cool liquid conforming around his fit skin. It lapped at him, the water from the waves finding ridges from the scars to settle down and envelope. He had not had a bath in a week, it was long needed. The cool water would no doubt have caused him some kind of illness in the morning had he been remained a weak human, but with his immune system boosted by the superiority of Elvin power, he was confident he would not. And in any case, his immune system well being played little in his ability to kill…he had killed and fought through worse. He had fought through his skin falling off and losing the very substance his immune system resided in. Surely he could fight even with a fighting one if he could fight while losing one.

Slowly washing the grime from his hair and his body, Eragon stared at his reflection illuminated by the moon.

What had Arya said?

All but your eyes.

He had a perfect face, no scars, no extensive hair growth. It was a handsome, albeit, rougher, more manlier face than he had left with, but the same, nonetheless.

All but his eyes had healed.

Eragon studied his eyes and shrugged.

Elves spoke in riddles, and deciphering all of them would give him a headache. It served little purpose. He climbed out of the water, pulling on his clothes and left to the tent had not seen in months. It was exactly the same as before, only, far too much color in his clothes. He did not appreciate that. How inefficient he was, no wonder he was not powerful. His clothes were trademark of a status he did not deserve. They were ostentatious, pretentious, not at all suited for his role in this war. He looked at his pack of clothes, he had enough till the war ended…or at least until he died.

Stripping down to the nude, he pulled the covers over his lower body, only to maintain the decency for another unknowingly walking into his tent without his permission. It was far too hot to wear anything he was accustomed to wearing. He promptly fell asleep.

The morning came at an unusual time for him. The waking up and sleeping at odd hours because of little to no exposure to the sun had thrown off the Rider's circadian rhythm so badly it had yet to recover. And…he liked traveling at night.

There was a noise on the plank outside his tent, but before he could reply, whoever it was entered.

"Arya svit-kona."

She looked at his appearance, her eyes drifting down his body to the barely covering lower half. Understanding he was nude, she averted her eyes and looked back up at his face, far too proud to look away from his body. Her eyes however, widened at the multitude of scars, but she said nothing.

"Sorry for my intrusion. I did not realize…."

Eragon nodded before staring back at her. There had to be some reason as to why she had come to his tent.

"Nasuada and the rest of the delegates await for you."

"I shall be there shortly."

Arya nodded, finally averting her eyes from his body. A twinge of red crept up the tip of her pointed Elvin ears.

"I apologize for my behavior last night."

Realizing she was not about to leave him be, he motioned for her to turn around, before throwing off the covers and sliding into the warm black cloth. The air had gotten warmer than when he had left, but the chilliness still cut through like the wind slicing through trees. He could still see his breath in front of his face. They were moving north, and the summers were shorter and winters harsh and intense.

"For what is there to apologize for?"

She turned around when she heard the sound of a sword being placed into its scabbard, assuming he had already finished dressing.

"I was too forward yesterday. I understand you need time to recuperate from your ordeal, and I shall not pressure you."

His eyebrows furrowed, "Pressure me into what?"

"Healing," she said matter of factly, "emotionally healing from your ordeal."

He gave her a hard look, "I spend months learning how to silence my mind and emotions in order to find the power to defeat the king. I will not 'heal' from this, as you so deftly claim I need to, I will not allow myself to. In fact, I have finally healed myself from my mental and emotional turmoil. They shall not bother me again."

Arya looked at him, a breath she was holding in finally let out.

"It seems I have waited too long." And she turned and left, leaving him to follow closely behind her.

They arrived to the council, their fast pace no surprise to those who knew of their need to see the council.

Nasuada looked up at him when they entered, a small smile gracing her features, but her eyes clouded with apprehension.

"I trust you are well."

"I am," was his curt reply.

Islanzadi's face appeared in the mirror, he waited until she took in his appearance before starting the Elvin greeting. She returned the gesture.

She said nothing further, but Eragon knew the approval lay in her eyes. It was interesting, that of all the leaders, only Islanzadi was pleased with his transformation.

Orik trudged in, and at the sight of his foster brother clumsily ran to him and enveloped him in a tight hug. The Rider took all his power not to flinch at the contact, and before he could respond, the dwarf had already let him go, bewildered at the hesitation.

He met the Rider's eyes, and when they were returned blankly, Orik shoved any disagreement away.

"Look at my brother!" he exclaimed, "Look at how much more handsome he has grown. Not barely eighteen, and look at him, a man if there ever was one."

The dwarf king slapped his arm affectionately, the little nods of his head contemplating the difference. His words were said to pacify himself at the Rider's change, not to the council. The other leaders averted their eyes from his face. He hesitantly touched his face, looking for some kind of scar or marking that would cause such comments to surface, but he felt it was as smooth and perfect as it had been before.

Little one, there is no mark or scar left on your face from your ordeal.

Then why would everyone turn away from me when he said I was handsome?

Your face has changed, little one. You look older, more mature, much more handsome. You are reaching the age the elves stop aging. If you paid attention to your walk, then you would remember even more women staring at you lustfully.

Then why do they all avert their eyes?

Not all do.

Eragon's face snapped up, only to see Arya's emerald eyes fixed on his face. She smiled at him, a real genuine smile, one that would have had his heart racing months ago, and one that still threatened to do so. Unsure as to how to respond, he nodded at her before looking away.

Do not think on his words too much.

Why? Am I not handsome?

He cursed himself for his reply. Her gaze sharpened on his.

Was that a jest?

He thought back to his words, it had been, but that was absurd, Eragon did not joke, not any longer. He sighed at how easy it would be to let his emotions and feelings and concerns for others rule him again. How easy it would be to fall into that old routine again. But it was one that weakened him, one that he would never want.

No, that was not a jest.

If anything, her gaze sharpened even more on him. But she replied anyhow.

Then know that you are easily the most handsome man I have ever seen.

His hand moved away from his face, but a smile was left far away from his intent.

Thank you, Arya svit-kona.

Her eyes looked away as she raised a hand to rub her neck. It seemed pain somehow, perhaps a rash judging from how red it looked from Eragon's standpoint. Maybe the leather was irritating her skin.

She noticed him looking at the back of her neck, and the rash became even more prominent.

If you keep rubbing your skin, the rash will not go away, Arya svit-kona. Surely you can heal yourself from this later.

Incredulousness swept through their link, that a little amusement before she could contain herself.

Believe, Eragon, when I tell you that there are many cures for this type of 'rash.' However, none are approved healing methods of the Elvin kind.

Saphira sent her laughter through their link.

Perhaps on top of torturing you, Orion has taken away your ability to perceive other people's emotions as well.

Arya's hand stilled as she caught Saphira's words.

Tortured? He was to train you! Not torture you.

Eragon gritted his teeth, women would be his end, even if the king stood in his way.

We shall speak of this later. And you, Saphira, you know better than to speak of that time to just anyone.

Saphira sent a hard rap against their link.

Arya is not just anyone, Eragon. She is one you trusted to protect me and went beyond what she had to in order to keep me cared for. Before I had even met you, Arya is family.

Forgive me, Saphira. I know of your closeness to Arya, and I apologize if my response insinuated undermining anything as such. However, there are some facts that should be kept secret.

Her protest began to raise.

Especially from family.

And Saphira was silent again.

"Is the plan to take Dras-Leona, via Helgrind satisfactory to everyone?"

"No." The Rider replied.

Nasuada nearly flinched at his tone, but Islanzadi seemed expectant of something none of the leaders could think up of.

"Helgrind is the perfect strategic outpost in order to take Dras-Leona. However, during that time, it will take only days to take Helgrind, but nearly a week to move everyone there. That week will leave the Varden in between Dras-Leona and Uru'baen. The closer we move to the capital, the closer they become a player in our battles. This leaves the Varden open to attack on both sides with less than a third of their soldiers. We will be surrounded and annihilated. Not to mention, Helgrind has its own troubles. The people there follow a peaceless religion of self mutilation. Slavery, sexual abuse, and diseases run rampant through the town. Even if we do not have an attack from either side, the Varden will die internally because of the city itself. Our only option is to take Dras-Leona directly, and then burn Helgrind to the ground."

Protests went wild around the round table. Nasuada was in shock merely thinking about the prospect of burning an entire place.

Only Orrin spoke, "And what of the innocents? What shall you do with them, Rider? Burn them as well! I will not stand for it!"

Eragon remained quiet until the king's rant subsided.

"King Orrin, I have neither the worst intentions in my mind, nor the best. I simply have the intention to further the Varden with minimal harm. Helgrind is not a viable option to take first. Those who do not see that are clearly not worthy of their position as leaders."

He let his words sink in before he continued. Many leaders looked away, rage in their eyes.

"Once we take Dras-Leona, our only option is to move the entire Varden there, and then take Helgrind. The place can serve as an outpost, however, there are problems. I wished to keep this silent, but since you all have no reason to trust my words, I am left no choice but to blatantly prove my words. I trekked upon Helgrind twice. Once with Brom, and once with Roran. With Brom, Helgrind was a town where slavers sold their catch on the middle of the streets, no law enforcement or anything to prevent them. Harlots ran the most successful businesses, and the spread of diseases there was rampant even then. The self – mutilating priests not only took their limbs off, but even of those who threatened their fate. They threw their limbs in front of their deity, in a large pit filled with blood and decaying flesh. Animals, rodents, insects, and mosquitos of all kinds made that area their home. Cannibals would jump in the pits and scourge whatever food they could, I sensed nearly twenty men underneath in that pit when I was there. The second time I came around, nothing had changed, only the more number of cannibals. The sick and diseased lay in the middle of the street, spreading their sickness throughout the entire city. If you want the Varden soldiers, men who are just now barely traveling the country from one battle to another, who have had little exposure to disease and sickness to die of illness, then, by all means, use Helgrind as an outpost as it is. If, however, you want a fighting chance against the king, than burn Helgrind so the diseased and illness are eradicated and then use it as an outpost."

The room became an eerie silent before the Queen spoke.

"Eragon Shadeslayer is correct in his words. It is the best way. That will also give time for the elves to march from Gil'aed down to Uru'baen, as such, we can march together."

"Very well, this is the plan we shall go with. Take the rest of the day off, and tomorrow, we meet to find a way to take Dras-Leona instead."

Eragon nodded before swiftly exiting the tent. Finding Saphira, he jumped on the saddle and took into the air.

This, this he missed.

I am glad, little one, that you are finally back on my saddle.

They flew calmly, the wind blowing through his shortened hair, until he felt Saphira descending. He saw the outline of Arya on the bluffs of the cliff. A little backflip, and Saphira landed as silent as the wind on a breezy day.

Eragon jumped from the saddle.

You have much to talk about. And I need to hunt.

Saphira left him to the unflinching gaze of the Elvin princess.

"Orion tortured you." She made it a fact, not a question. As if there was little doubt in her mind as to what exactly his 'teacher' had done to him.

"What of it?"

She cursed loudly, something he had only rarely heard her do. There was usually good reason for it, but he could see none here.

"For that alone, Eragon, I could kill the man."

"You would not be able to."

Her eyes flashed angrily to his, "You seem to have lost the ability to comprehend the power of will."

"Will means nothing, it is an optimistic standpoint. Realistically, that is not the true case."

"Will means nothing? Nothing?"

"Of course not."

She seemed to be even more angry with his words, either that or the tranquility of his voice.

"Will means nothing to the man who starved himself in a cell so he would not be drugged. Will means nothing to the man who had to fight from the gates of death itself to kill a Shade, winning the battle of Farthen Dur. Will means nothing to the man who continued to fight and train everyday, knowing his back, scarred so badly from his encounter, would give him immense pain. Will means nothing you?"

"Nothing at all."

"Than what do you call that?"

"A desire to survive, that is all."

She looked at him with incredulousness. "Survival?"

Arya became silent once more. "And what of Sloan, what was he? Not survival, I can assure you. Never that, was he a will to not be reduced to immorality?"

"Sloan was a lapse in judgment. His life needed to be taken, I was too weak to take it."

She shook her head vehemently, "No, not weak." She denied his claims even harder, "Never think he was a lapse in judgment. Sloan was the proof that you are worthy to lead the next generation of the Riders."

"Arya svit-kona, I am not that child anymore. It is best if you understand that before you begin to compare me to that farmboy. This is war, and I will be damned if I do not fight."

"Explain to me further, Eragon. Explain to me the nature of your power so I understand why emotions are kept far away from you. Explain to me why your heart could be read in your eyes that horrid day when you told me you could not speak with me for the duration of your stay with Orion. Tell me what changed, Eragon, so I may understand how to bring you back."

"I was weak, Arya svit-kona. I became stronger. I am unsure as to how to better explain that to you."

"And your power?"

"Obtained by separating my body and mind from myself."

"And why have you separated your heart?"

"It felt too much pain. Pain is a hindrance. I shut myself off from emotions."

"Shutting yourself off from emotions is not strength, dear Rider, you have shown me that. Shutting yourself from emotions is the greatest sign of weakness, it shows you are unable to deal with what Fate has in store for you. It shows you are too weak to handle your pain, and those who cannot handle their pain, cannot hope to handle their strength."

Rage coursed through him, he felt this inability to control the release of his energy. He felt himself burn, quite literally. The energy conversion was taking place too rapidly, and soon that energy residing in his cells turned into magic…specifically fire, and his body erupted into blue flames.

This was what Orion warned him about, this loss of control that came with emotions. He glanced at Arya after seeing his burning hands. It did not pain him, it was his own magic. But the fear in Arya's eyes was enough to shake him to the core, he gained control of his magic, and silenced it, letting it dissipate into the atmosphere.

"What did you do?" She was still in shock, "Never, Rider, have I seen a body lit in up in pure magical power of that magnitude. What did you do?"

He turned to her, "Not what I did. This is what you do to me." His anger was coursing his words, "Do you even have a semblance of understanding of what you do to me?"

He ran his hands through his hair, exasperated. He tried so hard…but in the end, she was right. All he was, was a weak man.

"Orion tortured me, tortured me to the point where I felt no pain. I separated myself from my body and mind, understanding how it would weaken me. He told me on the first day that he would enjoy 'breaking' me, as he enjoyed breaking others. He told me true strength lied in those who are strong at their weakest, not at their strongest. And I became powerful."

He walked around agitated, the forest cringing back from him as he paced.

"I asked him before I left, if he had broken me." He gave her a hard stare, "You truly want to know what he said to me?"

Arya stopped his pacing, grabbing his hand and forcing him to look at her.

"Yes."

"He told me he could not break a broken man. He told me that love broke me. You, Arya, Princess of the Elves, you broke me."

Her hand tightened around his as sorrow crept into her eyes. "You broke me, causing me to weak because of my emotions for you. And now, again, you break me. You cause me to weak, you cause me to lack control of this power because once again, you threaten to make me feel. Pain is easier to be silenced, emotions are easier to be silence because the only pain, the only emotion I feel, dear elf, is the one you instilled in me when you walked away from me in the Elvin forests."

He ripped his hand out of hers, "You, Arya, will be the death of me. Not some king, not some rogue Red Rider, and not even my own inability to control my power. You, and you alone, will be the end of me."

He gave her one last hard look before the sky finally relented, turning its fluffy snow into hard, pelting, cold rain. It was like their relationship, changing with the season, into something harder, more violent, and full of hatred and resentment.

But she would not let go. She ran after him, stopping him in his tracks, and he had no choice but follow. Why could she not leave him be? Why was breaking him not enough? Was she so sadistic she had to see him shatter before her very eyes?

His breath nearly caught in his throat as she forced him to turn around. He looked at her emerald eyes, beacons in the foggy air. She moved to say something, but her voice caught in her throat as they heard Varden soldier voices near their position. Without another word, she began to run, tugging him along, never once leaving his hand in the rain. They ran away from the voices, away from the people to the back of the castle entrance. Pulling him to her room, she opened the door, and locked it. Silencing their conversation from being heard, she turned to him again, that same rash now covering all the way up to her pointy ears. Eragon never thought she looked as radiant as she did now, the redness of her cheeks and neck illuminating her emerald eyes, and artisan face. She was sculpture, a model for famous painters, the epitome of perfection itself. An angel, proof that a higher deity did exist, for no mere chance could have created this ethereal piece of beauty. He turned away again, his heart breaking even further.

He would never defeat the king, Orion would strike him down any second. She had broken him again, broken him into a mere farm boy. Arya shivered uncontrollably, the cold from the rain, and the heat radiating from her at odds with one another. She pulled herself together, deliberating walked towards him. His breath caught in his throat, and she noticed, a smile on her face.

"You should really get that rash looked at."

She frowned, her eyebrows furrowed before looking at the mirror. Her face was red, she was blushing, an Elvin princess of over a century blushing at the prospect of falling in love with this man. She chuckled out loud, not believing herself.

Glancing back at the Rider, she took in his appearance. Yes, indeed, he was the most handsome man she had ever seen. A tall persona, a strong body, muscles to fill, a graceful proportion, a man's face, strong, chiseled to perfection, his eyes strong, but still unemotional, so unemotional. And her smile was swept off her face. She walked slowly towards him, a small worry at what he would do to her.

"Silly man."

Eragon was startled at being called silly. At one point, yes, he was, but a silly boy. He was far from silly now.

"I thought Saphira would have explained in detail my 'rash.'"

He shook his head. She laid a hand on his cheek, her height easily matching his, her lips only a breath away from his. Her eyes dangerously fixed on his own lips. He felt, more than saw, her hand creep dangerously close to his hair, before running her hands through the soft, almost silk like strands. It was a warm feeling, like running her hands through creamy melted chocolate. It just conformed around her fingers, shaping them, giving them feeling. His hair was unlike any sensation she had felt before.

"Arya…"

Her hands stopped their exploration, laying still, and suddenly grabbing it fiercely, anchoring his head in place.

"That rash, dear Rider, dear Eragon, was my own ability to hide my feelings from you, to hide my lust and the feeling from which it stemmed from you, my own inability hide myself from you."

Eragon swallowed, the air thickly descending upon him.

"Silly man," she started again, "you make me blush."

And before he could respond to that preposterous notion, she caught his breath between her lips, and kissed him with as much passion as she could muster.

Lights exploded through his eyes, his vision blurred, he seemed almost halolike. This was what it felt like, this was what love felt like. She pulled away from him all too soon, and he followed her lips, unable to tear himself away, unwilling to let her escape him.

"Silly Rider, where would I go?"

And she kissed him again, this time with even more possessiveness than before. Arya pulled him to the bed, unable to take their distance any longer. She yanked at his black wet clothing. It clung to him almost as tight as she was, but only almost. Pulling out of his embrace for a mere second, she pulled the shirt off, disheveling his hair, and threw it in a corner. He glanced at it, before looking back at her. He was beginning to understand what this meant, what she meant. Breaking him seemed too little a price to pay if this was the end result.

He returned to her embrace, catching her lithe body, pulling her even closer. She traced the scars on his body, the lines formed by whips and blades. Eragon lifted her in his arms, her legs immediately wrapping around his waist with a vise like grip, by the fates, she was dominant. He headed to the bed, ungracefully letting them both fall unceremoniously, but he could not care less. She pulled his head back to hers, her tongue sweeping through his barriers, causing him to groan as she ravaged at his mouth. His fight for dominance was long lost. The only thing he could do was attempt to match her, to give her as much pleasure as she was giving him. Her nails raked down his back, the sensation causing him to arch back as his hips grinded against hers. He groaned again, the unfamiliar ache becoming worse and worse. She smiled at him, enjoying the view of his 'rash' that matched hers. He sat up, careful not to put his weight on her, but she had already taken the opportunity to flip them over.

The Rider moved to her black leather top, deftly moving to back, his need to see her outweighing any embarrassment as his clumsy attempt with the ties and fastenings. He pulled the leather strings away from each other, loosening up the top as she pulled it over her head. His gaze fell predatorily over her body, her full chest, and her slim stomach and waist. He was truly the luckiest man in the world. She smiled at his reaction, feeling the evidence of his desire strain further against that black cloth. He captured her lips once more, unable to take the separation as his hands moved across her body. She whimpered against him, a noise far more sexy and desirable than he could have ever imagined. He left her lips, itching the taste the skin underneath her jaw. And if her skin was soft, it was nothing compared to her taste. She was the perfect mix of faelnirv, and he could feel himself become intoxicated with her taste and scent. She would be the end of him. He kissed his way down her neck, lazily licking and nipping as he went down. She whimpered even more against him, cradling his head to her body, running her hands through his hair.

He had such an effect on her. Hesitantly, he nuzzled her chest, looking very much like a cat, but she knew he was more predatory than the normal domesticated cats. Far more predatory. But instead of attacking her, taking her, claiming her, he kissed her heart, her beating muscle that nearly pounded out of her chest to meet his lips. Tears filled her eyes as he continued to lick and nip and bite over her heartbeat, holding himself close to her, before finally looking at her eyes.

"You are crying, Arya. I never meant to make you cry." His voice was thick with emotion. How could she not have seen this before? How could she have ever had the strength to turn him away the first time?

Tears flowed harder, "Arya…please do not…you are breaking my heart. My spirit."

And by fate she would not stop. Eragon kissed her again, "Will you never stop breaking me, Arya? Your wishes, your happiness, your distress, your tears. You do not stop do you, you will not stop till you shatter me, utterly and completely."

His lips moved over her eyes, wiping evidence of her distress away from them into the oblivion. His carefully turned their bodies, so she lay beneath him, an angel whose raven black hair spread across her pillow like some goddess descended from the skies on a breezy day. His hands moved beneath her pants, willing himself to make pleasure the only thing on her mind. He yanked at her leather clothing, prying it off her body, gazing at her wonderful body beneath him. His breath caught in throat for what seemed like the millionth time. It was a miracle he could breath at all.

He captured her lips again.

"You are beautiful, Arya of the Elves."

Her tears seemed to subside, why she began to cry, she could not say. Perhaps it was the overwhelming relief of being able to express herself, or perhaps happiness at his love, or even her contempt at herself for ever denying him this, for causing pain to the very man that caused her happiness.

She whimpered against his lips again, her breaths becoming rapid and turbulent, as his fingers found her core and stroked deeply. He found her wet and soft, needy with desire. She had often heard that men felt some sick satisfaction at seeing evidence of a woman's desire for them. But not him, not Eragon. Instead of reprimanding her for her lack of control of her body, he seemed to revel in it, as if she was a gift, as if everything about her was a gift. If anything, seeing her wet for him made him even more crazy for her.

Eragon was nearly at his limit, he could not even think properly any more. The Elvin princess pulled herself together, fixating on his black wool pants, as she made it her single minded mission to free him from such constraints, and she did, deftly, swiftly, with perfection. They both lay naked, the rain pelting against their window, the only witness to their tumultuous union.

"What are you waiting for?"

His fingers stroked her once again, causing her to cry out. This was torture. He lowered his lips down to hers, kissing her soundly before moving to her ears and with a whisper told her of his doubts.

"Are you sure you want this, Arya?"

She pulled his head back, her eyes searching his for some kind of jest. She kissed him once, again, causing him to groan against her mouth as his hand continued their languid exploration of her body.

"Of course I do, Eragon." Her voice was breathy. "It will always be yes."

He shook his head, "You do not know of what you speak of. Tying yourself to me. I am a broken man, I have a power I cannot control well. I am scarred and shattered beyond belief. I do not care about my appearance, but to taint you, I could never…I would not want to be an embarrassment to you, Arya. I know what my body looks like, I know the ruthlessness and coldness that resides in my eyes. I am not a kind man, not anymore. The things been done to me, the things I can do, Arya you are tying yourself to a monster with no emotions. If we do this, I will never let you go. You have to understand that. I would never let you go, ever."

She pulled him closer, her hands and nails moving down his back to rest on his bare, firm, buttocks. She pulled him closer, arching her hips against him, the temporary movement causing his fingers to slip inside her. She groaned at the unexpected wave of pleasure, but it was nothing compared the desire of Eragon to be buried deep within her core. If she kept this up, there would be no stopping him, and he would become the monster he tried to escape from.

"A monster..." she breathed out, somehow the disbelief coming through her husky, breathy voice. "You would only be a monster if you took me by force, and you have not. Only become one if I ever stopped desiring you, which will never happen. I do not mind you becoming a monster at the thought of me leaving you, Eragon. I am glad, that after all this time, after all the pain I caused you, you are still willing to love enough to protect me, to never cease your desire for me. A man losing himself to oblivion over a woman is enough proof of the depth of his love for her. That is enough for me. And emotionless…please Eragon. Do not lie to yourself. An emotionless man would not turn to flames with anger or kiss my heart when making love or even cease his own need for pleasure when he found me in tears. An emotionless monster, you are neither on both accounts."

She grinding her hips against his hand, forcing him even deeper as she writhed beneath him.

"Make love to me, Eragon."

He hesitated, "Are you sure?"

Arya pulled his mouth to hers as her answer.

Make love to me, Eragon. She repeated the words in his mind, her mouth otherwise occupied. Eragon smiled against her lips, the first true genuine smile she had seen, and that alone was nearly enough to send her flying. He felt her move against him, her body right there for the taking, and in one swift motion, he entered her, swearing he saw white lights blind his vision. The Elvin princess writhed even more against his body, so close, so close was she, yet it seemed so far away.

He moved against her, keeping up slow and slick pace, taking his time, kissing her languidly, his hands coming to cup her cheek and neck as he explored her mouth. He was a tender lover, one that threatened to bring tears to her eyes once again. She could feel his hardening shaft grow even more inside her, stretching her, filling her to the point of breaking. She could feel the sensation overwhelming her until only him and his body existed, not even her, she was becoming consumed by him, utterly and completely. He took her to the top slowly, but surely. And at once his pace quickened as they neared that edge, slow and slick, not enough to take them over the edge. She felt her desire grow even larger and larger, that pleasure sensor taking over control. This was pure heaven. Tightening her hips around his waist, she pulled him even closer, his body pulsing through her deeper, harder than before. She was even closer, and again, he picked up the pace, somehow never losing the tenderness in his gestures.

Seeing their bodies dangerously close to the headboard, Eragon threw an arm above her head, preventing her from ever coming in contact with the bed frame as they rocked together.

He let go of her lips, unable to keep contact as he felt this rush come through him. His final thrusts took them both over the edge, causing her cry out as she felt her body reach her climax and come hurtling down, and him to let go of his control as he shot through her.

Their breaths were rushed, their hearts beating far too fast for two warriors of their caliber. Eragon kissed her again, his hands running down her body to rest on her hip as he stared into her emerald eyes.

She could reduce him to ashes.

Arya moved closer to him, nuzzling his nose with hers. Such displays of affection were uncommon, even among Elvin mates, but for some reason, he made her want to show him how much he meant to her.

"What are you thinking of?"

"You, Arya Drottningu. I am thinking of you." The smile left his face, leaving an intense gaze upon her.

"What of me?"

"You control me, Arya. You have the power to destroy me."

She looked at him, "Do you believe I will?"

He carefully turned her on her back, his hand coming to rest against her cheek, moving the strands of silky hair from her face.

"Even if I did, it would not stop how much l love you, Arya. You are the only person I would ever consider breaking for. Any punishment from you I would take while loving you. You could take my life, my heart, my soul, my sanity, my power, whatever you wish from me, and I would still never stop loving you. You could torture me as Orion did, and still, I would never stop loving you."

A tear leaked through her eyes, falling down her cheek. She was turning to mush around him, but her gaze became fierce, and at once, she reminded Eragon of that Tigress he had scryed months ago.

"Nothing, no one, not a king, not Orion, not fate, or even those Dwarven gods will take you from me, nothing will harm you ever again. I will not allow it."

He smiled at her protective nature, this was what he could get used to. His emotions, as long as he felt this, he would be in control. As long as he had someone to come back to, he would be in control. Orion was wrong, emotions were powerful, they made him strong. To feel pain should not be a motivation to feel nothing, nay, feeling pain should be a motivation to look for happiness elsewhere. That was all he learned really, how to convert, how to convert the pain into happiness.

A delicate hand stroked his cheek. He turned towards it, kissing it softly, as he pressed the palm against his face.

"I love you, Eragon."

And he was flying once again.

The next morning came with the dusky overtone of an ending winter. He would have noticed more than that if it had not been for the naked angel beside him, curling herself around him. He opened his eyes further, running his hands through her silken hair, savoring the feel. She took his other hand, playing with his fingers as she grew accustomed to waking up beside him. She smiled at the thought of never having to be alone again.

She closed her eyes.

"What is the date?"

"Sunday, I believe."

Her smile widened, "Thank fate for humans and their inability to work on Sundays." She turned to her side, pulling his hand across her body as she rested on his firm bicep. He laughed, the first time she had heard it in a long time. She turned towards him in surprise, only to be greeted with his perfect smile. He leaned towards her, capturing her lips before she could comment.

"I love you, Arya. Forgive me if I neglected to tell you last night."

She moved against his body, settling down as a sign of her happiness before closing her eyes and promptly resting her own tired body.