Dras Leona hadn't changed much since Eragon had last visited with Brom, despite the fact it happening only two years or so, it felt like a lifetime. As he gazed upon the disarray of rundown buildings that made up the city, Eragon kept expecting to see Brom leaning against his rune etched staff, explaining the ways of the priests of Dres Leona and how they worshiped Helgrind and of the creatures who had dwelled within the darkened stone.
Speaking of Helgrind…. Eragon could easily see the dark blot on the horizon, thanks to his enhanced eyesight he could faintly make out the cragged peaks of the deformed rock. How odd that it had only been a couple of weeks since he has last been there, where he had slain the Ra'zac, where he had finally found a small amount of peace within him.
Eragon turned his attention back to Dras Leona, the city was a tangled mess of run down homes, most mere structures of mud-caked walls and thatched roofs, on the shore of Leona Lake, only when the path trailed farther in did he actually see houses made of brick and stone that wouldn't collapse upon his head. He easily saw the towering Cathedral, its dark stone reminding him of the evil lair of the Ra'zac who the priests had no doubt modeled it after.
I wonder. What will the priests do now that the Ra'zac are no more? Eragon mused as he walked down the cobblestone path towards the great gates of Dres Leona, he had changed his appearance once against to lighten his hair and to change his brown eyes into a vivid green, nobody would know that Eragon Son of None was in their midst. And Eragon would prefer it that way.
I highly doubt the priests would welcome you with open arms if they knew you were in this rabble of a city…. Stay cautious little one, we have enemies everywhere. Saphira warned her Rider who continued on towards the gate.
I've changed from the boy seeing this city for the first time, trust me I don't want another repeat of last time. I've been chased out of enough places with arrows aimed at my back and spearmen and swordsmen on my heels to last me a lifetime, and we live forever mind you.
Do not underestimate our enemies Eragon, Saphira warned him cautiously. The blood drinkers may not be the worst enemies we have but we barely know anything about them and as you know…
That makes them even more dangerous, Eragon finished his other half of his heart and soul grimly, I know Saphira. I'm ready for anything… and having several Eldunarí to back you up never hurts your chances, eh Uznov, Draken?
Right! Draken's voice rumbled inside Eragon's head, his brother and himself along with five other Eldunarí being in Eragon's small dimension.
Brother, don't encourage the boy to be careless. Honestly, is that the way we wish for our new leader of the Riders to act? With a hot head and even more careless actions? As if we have enough to worry about with this boy getting in way over his head, Uznov's deep voice rumbled like an avalanche. The grey Eldunarí hadn't changed his opinion on how much trouble Eragon could get in with what he deemed to be awful patience, sometimes Eragon wished he could turn back the clocks so that the powerful dead dragon could see what he was like before he left the Varden.
Eragon stopped communicating with the dragons, alive and dead alike. He had reached the gates and would have to shut off his mind so no magicians could be privy to his thoughts. Like before there was a massive rush of people trying to get through the gates, judging by their ragged clothing and some holding onto a few possession Eragon knew they were refugees from the south, trying to get away from the war.
Like the last time he had gone through the gates with Brom, he managed to slip by thanks to the endless crowd of refugees, nobody would pay attention to a normal looking man with ragged robes, he was just another face in the crowd. No one would guess he was Eragon Shadeslayer.
Once he entered the city lines he knew what to expect from last time, but he couldn't help but feel his heart pang and his blood to boil in barely concealed rage. Like last time beggars with deformities lined the dirt streets. Some missing hands or fingers, Eragon guessed they were the crime for being caught stealing as that was common for the law to do that, and seeing their ragged state he couldn't blame them. Children as thin as the reeds lining Leona Lake chased one another, but instead of playing like normal children Eragon could see two fighting over a small scrap of bread, barely enough to satisfy even a starving toddler.
The cries of the poor and deformed rang in his head, their cries of help fell on the deaf ears of the travellers. Either because they couldn't help or they just wouldn't.
Maybe it was because there were so many new refugees, but Eragon knew that their ranks had grown tenfold at least. He wished he were deaf, their cries for aid couldn't be answered by him, not now and not here. He had never felt more useless, but he knew if a random stranger started to hand out coin, people would find it suspicious and watch him, the last thing he needed.
He wished he could help him, but he had come here for one thing, to free the slaves. Eragon would work behind the scenes, in the shadows, to help the poor. But when it was broad daylight with people watching his every move… He couldn't do that yet.
With a heavy mind and an even heavier heart, Eragon followed the familiar path. Weaving through the crowded masses, the robed Rider soon found himself in the nicer parts of the city, where the civilians lived in luxury compared to their poorer brothers and sisters. He could still hear the cries of help from the distance.
Soon enough Eragon found himself looking at a familiar inn, the Golden Globe still looked slightly worn down but he knew that it was near the center of the city and it would be easier to navigate.
The woman who ran the inn had not changed, aside from more wrinkles adorning her brow and cheeks, she still seemed the same. Her scowl as well.
Eragon paid the woman for several days of rent, before retiring to his room. Taking one look at the straw mattress and remembering of past experience he slowly cast his mind out slightly, sure enough small sparks of light were all over the mattress. "Joy," he muttered as he sent a small mental prod at the bright lights. Suddenly small yet prominent black dots suddenly appeared out of the straw mattress and the matted rug, the insects walked single file out of the bed and crawled up the cracked wall and out the window.
Looks like I was right in letting Brom sleep in the bed, Eragon noted wryly, sighing as he laid down in the grimy sheets. The smell of hay becoming apparent to his sharpened senses. The smell calmed him slightly, nostalgia overtook the rebel Rider as he thought of his old bed back on Garrow's farm, now nothing but ashes and shattered memories.
Eragon muttered some wards and placed them around the room, if any intruder with ill means tried to sneak up on him, they would find out rather quickly on why he had survived so long in the Empire.
You should rest, Eragon. Tomorrow is often a beginning of new surprises. Saphira told her Rider, he saw through their connection that she was currently resting deep in the forest, away from prying eyes but still close enough to burn the city to the ground if her little one was harmed in anyway.
I know, Eragon said softly as he closed his eyes. Tomorrow will be a beginning of surprises, both expected and not, whether good or bad. But where is the joy in a surprise if you already know what's going to happen, eh?
Eragon watched the crowds mill about, their different conversation buzzing in the back of his head, but Eragon paid them no need. He did listen for the worker who was bartering with the trader for cheaper bread, or the housewife who tried to buy fabric with less coin to its value. He instead watched and waited for the name Jorgr had told him about, one of the many eyes and ears of the Black Lotus.
It didn't take too long to find him. Even amongst the grey cobblestone pathways and the dark buildings amongst a sea of gloomy colors that made Eragon think they were more of use at a funeral than a normal day, he could make out the broad shouldered man walking towards him, his face hidden by a black cloak, had Eragon not had the eyesight of a elf he would have missed the small imprints upon the cloth, ornate designs of lotuses crossing over one another in an intricate weave, his sharp brown eyes noticed the faint imprints of runes as well, some Eragon didn't recognize reminding the rebel Rider that he still had a lot to learn.
The man had finally gotten near him, his facial features were hidden by the shadows of the cowl, but Eragon saw the stormy grey eyes staring into him with a cool calculative gaze. When he spoke it reminded him of dwarf, deep and resonate, like an avalanche but it had the same smoothness as a well polished stone.
"So you're the one Jorgr is so interested in, eh?" The man asked with narrowed eyes, Eragon recognized the roughness in his tone as well, the man had the same grittiness as someone who could have only been born in the north, like Eragon and Ronan he had probably been born and raised in a small village, perhaps near the Spine. The fact that Eragon could discern this just from a simple accent wasn't lost on the Rider, it made him more confident that this conversation wouldn't turn ugly or violent.
Eragon seemed to have that effect on people.
The leader of the rebel Riders did not speak but merely nodded his head, his eyes trying to see through the darkness of the man's hood, but there was no surprise when he failed to do so. Obviously the man was a magician and could mask his face with the shadows, a rather common yet helpful spell.
The man's eyes narrowed at the silence ever so slightly, he shifted his feet against the worn cobblestone before the man spoke again. "I'm Imun, Jorgr's right hand man I guess you could say." The now known Imun did not offer his hand in greeting, not that Eragon expected it.
"Garrow," Eragon offered with a small internal smile. Eragon tilted his head so he could see over the man's broad shoulder, looking for anyone following the man or looking in their direction. He saw naught but shoppers and vendors in a sea of chaos as everyone tried to get around the crowded plaza.
"Mmmm," judging by the tone Imun didn't believe him, then again why would he give his name. Eragon wasn't exactly a common name in the Empire, or even in Alagaesia, he didn't need any more attention.
"Come with me," Imun muttered under his breath, he started to walk, or more like lumbered, through the crowds of peasants and nobles alike. The crowd parted for him, though perhaps unintentionally, not for the man's impressive stature or dark attire but like sheep parting for their shepherd, instinctive.
Eragon raised a brow at that, following the larger and older man with even more interest. He knew that Imun was silently prodding the minds of the onlookers to step aside, faint enough that even a trained human magician would realize something in their mind. Interesting, though for such a crowd of unknown people, such actions could be dangerous. Saphira stated within their link, faint images following showed her high above the city, watching her Rider like a guardian angel that just happened to breathe fire.
Imun lead him throughout the labyrinth of streets, slowly getting towards the walls that defended the mesh of cluttered buildings and thus the poorer sections that would be the first to fall in a siege. The young Rider was lead to what appeared to be a tavern, its walls made of rough hewn stone and a wicker roof. The door a green so dark he wasn't sure if it was actually covered in moss instead of dye.
They entered the tavern. It was rather rundown compared to the Golden Globe, but not as rundown as some of the other taverns he had been too, it was surprisingly rather clean despite the dirty people that came and went. It reminded him of Morn's tavern, rundown but homely. The place was almost deserted, as many of the common people were probably working for their meal and mead somewhere in the city.
Some men garbed in boiled leather and old swords, that had probably been their grandfather's father's sword, sheathed at their hips drank at the oaken bar, their cheeks already reddened by the tankards of mead in their hands. To Eragon's relief he didn't see any sigils on their pauldrons, meaning they weren't part of the Imperial Army or the City Guard.
Free lances perhaps? He thought to himself. They certainly looked the part, meaning they had few equipment aside from their swords and seemed more eager to drink than spill blood.
That or bandits, Saphira murmured to her Rider before her tone turned distasteful, as though she had eaten something foul and rotten. Or slavers…
Eragon's mood turned as foul as Saphira's tone, he glanced back at the men, wondering if they had sold their fellow human beings, children even, to cruel slave owners just so they could have another tankard of mead. He hoped that wasn't the case.
"Please, sit." Immun gestured towards an empty table, the interesting thing was that it wasn't bare of anything but an intricate board shaped in a circle with what looked like colored tiles, tan, white, and brown, placed around the board. "Would you like to play?" he gestured at the board, pulling out small chips with different symbols from his robes.
Eragon gave the shrouded man a smile, "I'm afraid I do not know the game." He admitted as he seated himself, the mail he was wearing jostling slightly underneath his robes with a light tinkling noise that was nearly inaudible, but he could feel Immun's gaze on him, knowing that he wore armor underneath.
"The concept is simple, consider it a game of strategy." Jorgr's right hand man stated as he started to place the chips on certain tiles. "Though some, like those fellows over there," he nodded his head at the drinking free lances, "most likely use this game as a means of gambling rather than strategy."
Eragon listened on, intrigued by the game. "Is it like checkers?" he asked, remembering playing the game when he had been a lad back in Carvahall.
The man shrugged his shoulder, "A bit. It's just as old as that game, perhaps even older. But few know the rules and strategies." He moved a tile forward as he spoke.
Eragon, not really knowing any of the tiles and their meanings, chose a tile at random and moved it forward. He couldn't tell if he made a right move seeing as he could not see Immun's face, though he knew that he was most likely from the southern parts of the Empire, judging by the tanned skin of his hand.
The game continued, Immun was easily beating him but Eragon slowly started to understand some of the pieces and managed to put up a bit of a fight.
As Immun moved a tile that looked like a white rose, he spoke. "You wish to know things." He stated simply as he moved the tile in a zig zag motion and swiftly plucked on of Eragon's tiles, the symbol that of some type of stone that he didn't know the name of, and took it off the board. With a grunt Eragon realized that he hadn't managed to take off a single of Immun's pieces.
"Indeed. I'm sure your boss has mentioned what exactly I want." Eragon moved a tile in a diagonal line two tiles across, he saw the man in front of him nod, either to answer the question or glad that he seemed to know what to do with the game, Eragon would probably never know.
"Slave charts," the man grunted as he looked at the board with its quickly receding number of tiles, all of them Eragon's, "What are you trying to do, boy? Start a war?' he chuckled to himself at the last part, not knowing that was exactly what Eragon planned to do, or rather had already done.
"Consider myself a concerned citizen looking out for his fellow man."
"Don't give me that, lad. I may be a bit on the older side, but I'm not daft." Immun stated with a huff that Brom would have been proud of. "You're going to free them, but why? You don't seem to be the type of man to not have a motive. Oh yes, I can see it in your eyes. You're a man whose seen war, been in it, fought in it, killed in it, but you left it. But did the war leave you, hmm?"
Eragon didn't reply, he glared down at the table with a stubborn scowl. He didn't like the idea of some stranger knowing what he was like, Immun's sharp gaze wasn't lost on him.
"You've been in the war, but you weren't on King Galbatorix's side, were you? The Varden no doubt; judging by the way you glance around at the exits every now and then as though looking for Imperial soldiers to burst through the doors. They wont, and neither will the City Guard, Hudon and his men make sure of that." He nodded his head to the group of men drinking. "They're guards of our little club," he said.
"Anyway, back to those charters you so desperately want." He pulled out several scrolls from the folds of his robes and laid them beside him, making sure to not jostle the table and its pieces. He tapped his fingers on the parchment, "Everything concerning slavery within this putrid waste of a city. From shipments of captured humans, to the actual auctions themselves, and even some notable nobles with their large amassment of servants. I'm afraid I don't have any concerning how to free hundreds of slaves and get them out of the city though." He said the last part nonchalantly.
This guy… he's as sharp as Arya and Oromis-elda put together. Eragon thought in disbelief.
The human is rather… sharp in certain aspects. Saphira noted warily, concerned for the safety of her Rider.
Immun's fingers tapped themselves on the aged table, his hidden eyes focused upon the board with the different tiles. "Shall we continue to play?" he offered as he moved a tile, some dark flower imprinted within the aged tile, and plucked one of Eragon's tiles in one swift motion.
It didn't take much longer until Eragon's pieces were taken by Immun, the young Rider fought the urge to grit his teeth when he saw that every strategy he used was countered by Immun, it was as though he knew exactly what he was thinking, and he knew that Immun wasn't probing his consciousness for he and Saphira would have felt it.
"You've lost," Immun noted as he fiddled with a tile in his hand, a neat and orderly of Eragon's defeated tiles piled by his side. "While this is a game, think of what would happen if instead of tiles on a board, lives were placed upon a battlefield, what would happen, Garrow?"
Eragon didn't respond, he just stared at the masked man with shock. This man had to rival Brom in regards to smarts; there was no other explanation. Granted he didn't know the game and its rules until several hours ago, but he had always been a quick learner. But this man had beaten him in a game of wits with ease. He glanced down at his board, bare of pieces, and for a few seconds his vision flashed.
Instead of the neatly placed tiles, he saw grass stained with blood. He saw bodies; some charred or crushed beyond recognition, others missing limbs, others badly injured but still breathing, each breath the sound of a death rattle. He remembered the Battle of the Burning Plains, where men and dwarves died, cut down by the Imperial Army, their bright lives snuffed out. By accident as he searched for enemy magicians he caught many of their last thoughts, and those thoughts haunted him more than the men he himself had said.
We fought for you, Shadeslayer.
They had hadn't just fought for him, they had died for him. And for what? Why?
"Eragon is the key, the symbol, the very virtue of freedom itself!" Roran's words spoken in Helgrind rushed back to the Blue Rider.
If he was to be the key, that symbol, the essence of freedom, he would have to learn. Now he merely played with bits of clay and stone, but he knew deep in his heart that sooner or later those tiles would shift from carved stones into real men, men who believed in him.
He couldn't save them all, but he could try his damned hardest to make their sacrifices worth it.
Saphira didn't speak as she listened to the thoughts of her Rider, though the pride and warmth threatened to overflow their bond with the strength of a typhoon, her little one wasn't little anymore, the hatchling had grown into a fierce and cunning dragon. The fact that Eragon was so focused to liberating Alagaësia from King Galbatorix wasn't the reason, no, not in the slightest.
It was his dedication to the people of Alagaësia. His dedication wasn't just to the humans, but to all intelligent life, from the dwarves of the Beor Mountains to the elves of Du Weldenvarden, to the humans of the Empire, Eragon fought for them, for their freedom.
That was the difference between her little one and another leader, such as King Orrin of Surda. Orrin may fight for freedom, but any could tell that he had lost sight of his original goal, and now all he saw was the darkness and the unknowing shifting shapes that dwelled within, but Eragon still saw the world in its shades of grey, the light and the dark, he wasn't naïve nor was he ignorant, he was Eragon.
He was a Rider.
"You're in deep thought, young one," Immun noted, his voice softening ever so slightly, the iron tone softening to granite. "But that is good, I see it in your eyes."
Though he could not see Immun's face, Eragon paused. Eragon wondered if he knew that he wasn't Garrow, a simple man, but Eragon, a Rider. Somehow, instead of paranoia and fear, he didn't feel any worry about the safety of his identity.
Eragon looked down and realized that the man had placed the tiles back on the board, Eragon looked back up. "Would you like to play this game again?" he asked with a small smile, he may not know the rules and strategies, but he would learn.
One day the tiles will be lives, and the rules will dictate their fate, and strategies will help Eragon protect them.
Though he couldn't see it, Immun smiled. This Rider is interesting no doubt, the older man thought as he saw the determination burning in his green (most likely illusioned) eyes, it wasn't too hard to figure out who this 'Garrow' really was, but he held his tongue. Immun had a sixth sense on judgment of character, and the man seated before him was unlike any he had ever seen before.
If the lad needed help, Immun would help him. The boy would need all the help he would need, for he will surely not receive much but give much.
He pushed a tile forward, a lotus the color of pitch, a tile that was supposedly expendable but could win the whole board. "This is more than just a game."
And Eragon truly believed him.
Alright I am not really comfortable with this chapter, I'll admit it. So many of you guys were questioning about the next update and I may have rushed it, but I hope it's still good enough. The main difficulty was trying to flesh out Immun's character (I don't really know if he'll appear in any other chapters, but I was basically basing him off of Iroh to those who know what that game they were playing was and why I used it, as I found it to be a good plot device to flesh out Eragon's character even more).
I also wanted to try and continue to prove that Eragon isn't some almighty Rider god who could defeat anyone like a gnat, I wanted to show that though he is stronger than he was in Canon I am not making him into a Mary-Sue because I have few rules with my stories.
1. Make it believable
2. Keep them in character but still have some originality of my own.
3. Don't make them into super powerful god-like Mary-Sues who can destroy mountains by blinking or something like that.
I'm sorry if the chapter was not to your liking but this is really just a base for the upcoming chapters, and yes Eragon will finally start getting followers so he will actually have a chance of winning this war. I'm really sorry for the lack of updates, but I've been focusing a lot on schoolwork and sports, but I promise I'll update faster because you guys love this story so much. Like seriously you guys are my inspiration to continue reading. I'm even rereading Brisingr and Inheritance to help improve this story.
If you guys have any ideas for this story, I'm all ears because some of your ideas may stick to me and I could try to blend them into the story because I'll admit that I get heavy writer's block for this story sometimes so suggestions are a breath of fresh air. I do have the plot structure written down I've already done the beginning and I've already thought of the end, its really just some of the middle that I have trouble with.