"You should get some rest…it'll be morning when we get there."

The young woman shook her head, her hand gripping the spike in front of her as if to help keep her balance, even though there were no issues of her falling from her saddle, even if she were to fall asleep in it. "I'll sleep when I get there, Vana…" There was a large, almost irritated rumble from the woman's steed and a large cloud of ash billowed up and engulfed her, making her cough and wave her hands in front of her, as if to try and clear the smoke. "Really…? Was that necessary?"

"No…but you SHOULD get some sleep, Mari…we've been flying for three days already and you haven't slept at all the whole way."

"I have slept!" Mari had to steady herself again as her steed shifted. From the dim moonlight seeping through the clouds overhead, Mari could make out the gem like iris of her steed's eye staring at her, in that knowing, accusing way. The truth was even when Mari and Vana had stopped for a rest bit, Mari hadn't gotten much sleep, if any sleep at all. But she couldn't help it with all the excitement filling her mind.

Mari wasn't from the big cities, in fact she had grown up in the village of Carvahall, which has prospered over the century, thanks to the success of Roran Stronghammer's accomplishments as earl of Palancar Valley. While Roran had lead Palancar Valley, including Carvahall, to grow into a formidable settlement, compared to the bigger capital cities it was still relatively rural and secluded, but continued to thrive nevertheless, even after his death. His daughter, Ismira, had taken over and continued his legacy, while taking care of her son and then grandchildren, which one ended up being Mari's grandparent. While succession as earl of Palancar Valley had been decided not to follow lineage, Mari's father had been elected to continue to run things in his father's stead. Mari, on the other hand, was more or less the black sheep of the family. Not to say Mari took things of her family's legacy for granted, she had a severe case of adventure-lust. It was even joked about that Mari would become the new Eragon, impulsive and was prone to finding adventure when it was least expected. As irony would have it, adventure found her yet again in the form of Vana.

A little over a year ago, Arya had come to Palancar Valley to present the inhabitance a chance to touch the egg in hopes that it would hatch at their touch. Ayra, now and still queen of the elves, had decided to maintain her old role of courier of the dragon eggs, though this time the eggs were sent to her a couple at a time by Eragon, Grand Master of the Dragon Rider Order, to find suitable riders. While, over the century, no one from Palancar Valley had been blessed with having an egg hatch for them, it had become something of tradition and excitement simply to be able to touch a dragon egg and fantasize of what would happen if they were chosen by an egg. Though, as if proving the talk of Mari being a second Eragon, the small purple egg that Arya had been carrying at the time had reacted to Mari's touch, marking her with the fabled gedwey ignasia on her palm. Not long after, Vana had hatched out of the egg and grew into the beast that Mari rode right now. While Mari was sad to have to leave Carvahall and her family behind, she was excited for what awaited her by becoming a rider. She had travelled with Arya and her dragon Fírnen to Ellesméra, the elven capital, where she had gotten her crash course in the basics of being a rider, such as how to ride a dragon without falling off and how to use rudimentary forms of magic.

Now, a little over a year later, she was on her way to join her companions, the other riders, east of Alagaësia to continue learning the ways of the riders. They were on their third day of travel and all the way, Mari had been too excited to sleep well at all, even when Vana had landed to take a break from flying. But when Vana would not relent, Mari gave a defeated sigh. "Fine…I'll close my eyes…but don't expect me to actually fall asleep."

Vana continued to stare at Mari for a little longer, gliding along the air currents, before giving a soft grumble in her throat. "I suppose that's better than nothing…"

Mari smiled slightly. Ever since Vana had grown enough to travel to Ellesméra with Fírnen and Arya, she had adopted what seemed to be an elder sister role to Mari, not that Mari had minded too much. She enjoyed when Vana doted on her, worrying about if she had enough to wear as they flew, if Vana was having a balanced meal, though Vana herself hated to eat anything that grew out of the ground, and, like now, if she had gotten enough sleep. Mari knew she should sleep, but she just couldn't, not with the prospect of meeting the other riders laying in way in front of her. She leaned backwards a little, resting her back against one of Vana's spikes, still looking down Vana's neck as the dragon faced forward once again. Vana wasn't exactly big, though according to Arya, Vana was only slightly smaller than Saphira was a century ago so it wasn't too much of an issue. The spikes along her neck and back trailed all the way down to her tail, which, unlike most dragons, was finned, made up of the same membrane material as her wings. And while the rest of Vana was much like any other dragon, apart from the fin on her tail, the trait Mari enjoyed the most was the purple of Vana's scales, glittering whenever light hit them, making her look like she was made up of gemstones rather than scales. While Vana thought they were annoying and brought too much attention to herself, Mari loved their sheen.

Mari herself was of a small stature, making Vana's size irrelevant in the long run. Her hair was long and wavy, the brown locks reaching her shoulder blades, though it was currently tied up and billowing behind her as she rode on Vana's back. She was slim, like an elf, but she had the same round face and ears as a human. Hanging off Vana's saddle, placed in front of Mari's knee, was a long slim blade, the sword that she had used while practicing with the elves. She liked this sword, light, and easy to wield. She could not hope to match an elf in strength, let alone any other race in Alagaësia, so she opted for speed and technique, which suited the weapon she now possessed just fine.

Vana, sensing that Mari had still yet to go to sleep, looked back once more. "Mari…"

The girl rolled her eyes. "Fine…wake me when get there?"

"You know I will…"

Mari smiled. She enjoyed hearing Vana's voice, always calm and soft, even if Mari needed a telling off. Hearing Vana reassure her made Mari relax a little, letting her eyes slowly slide shut. "Alright then…goodnight, Vana…"

Mari felt Vana rumble slightly in what was supposedly a soft purr. "Sleep well, little one…"

What was hours for Vana felt like seconds to Mari and soon enough she felt the dragon nudging her mentally to wake up. Eventually Mari started to stir and opened her eyes, greeted by the light of the rising sun. "Hm…?"

"Mari…" Vana coaxed again. "We're here…"

Mari rubbed the sleep out of her eyes and squinted into the light of the sun. At first she couldn't make anything out with the light shining in her eyes but eventually she saw what Vana wanted her to see. In the distance, she could see the large mountains that was said to be the new home base of the dragon riders, Du Ristvak'lifa, the place of life. She was told that Eragon had named it to not only be the base for dragons and their riders, but also a place for said dragons to live and thrive, away from interactions with others. Looking over Vana's side, Mari could see a sea of trees below them, having changed from the open plains that they had until so recently been traveling over.

Now fully awake, Mari nudged Vana softly with her foot, egging her to go on, not that Vana needed telling. Apart from Fírnen, Vana had little contact with other dragons, only the odd sightings of the new riders with business in Alagaësia, making the purple dragon eager to meet others of her kind. As they approached the mountains, Vana started to angle up, climbing in altitude to clear the mountain peaks and enter Du Ristvak'lifa. The pair of them travelled in silent anticipation, Mari almost holding her breath in excitement.

However, as they broke through the clouds Mari found herself almost thrown off her saddle, and she would've been too if it weren't for her legs being strapped in, as Vana jerked violently to the side to avoid a sudden stream of orange flames. Trying to hold onto Vana's neck spike, Mari looked up to see a large orange scaled dragon diving for them, mouth open and small embers appearing in the depths of its throat.

"Vana!" Mari cried out, trying to warn her dragon.

"I know!" Vana gave a hard flap of the wings to angle herself and Mari to the side, avoiding the stream of flames that came from the orange dragon's mouth. Vana gave a roar of defiance, trying to fly higher to get the advantage over the other dragon, as Mari drew her thin blade from its sheath. "Mari, on the dragon's back!"

Mari looked and saw what Vana was talking about. On the dragon's back was a large, curved horned figure, brandishing a large two handed sword in one hand. "An Urgal. Vana that's a rider!" The orange dragon charged, Vana bracing herself as the two of them collided in midair. After a brief flash of talons and claws, the two disengaged and put distance between one another. "Why are they attacking us?"

"I don't know." Vana glared at the rider on the orange dragon, seeing the eager smirk on the Urgal's face. The dragon glanced around and saw the peaks of the mountains behind her. "Hang on."

Before Mari could ask what Vana was planning, Vana turned around one hundred and eighty degrees and dove past the peaks. Mari clung onto the neck spike in front of her as the dragon dove, chancing a glance behind her and saw the Urgal rider and his dragon giving chase. She lowered herself onto Vana's neck, silently urging her to go faster. Vana broke through the clouds again and as soon as they were below the clouds once more, Mari forgot all about the confrontation for a few moments.

Below them was a massive city, comprised of only several hundred structures. Massive structures at that, Mari thinking that they could house a fully grown dragon with ease and then some. There were caves in the mountain sides as well, Mari assuming that they were a possible nesting area for dragons if they choose to nest there. Mari also noticed, from her vantage point, that the far side of the city seemed to still be under construction. She supposed that seeing how the city only got two or three new occupants a year, expansion really wasn't high in priority.

Then, a roar behind her brought her attention back to the matter at hand. She twisted around in her saddle and saw the orange dragon breaking through the clouds after them. "Vana…! Go!"

Vana twisted her head around and saw the other dragon bearing down on her. She dove, wings pressed against her body and heading towards the city as fast as she could.

Mari pointed to a clear area near the closer rim of the city, devoid of structures, and was made for the sole purpose for a dragon to land easily and without obstructions. "There!" Mari felt Vana peering into her mind to see where she was pointing to before turning her own head to look and angled herself towards the area. Mari held on tight to the spike in front of her as Vana dove for the clearing, hearing the roar of the dragon behind them, telling her that the other rider was following. As Vana got closer to the clearing, she opened her wings, flaring them out to slow their decent. Mari was jostled around in her saddle as Vana landed roughly on the ground before turning to face the other dragon, who had landed behind them. Vana snarled at the other dragon, daring it to come closer.

Now that they were on the ground and steady, Mari was able to get a better look at the other dragon and rider. This dragon, as she noted before, was orange, but its scales didn't form a smooth, hard coat. Instead, the scales stuck out and were pointed, making the dragon a hazard to simply touch and, Mari later found out, were the cause of the scraps and cuts to Vana's underbelly. There were no spikes on the dragon's back, not that it needed anymore sharp things on its body, Mari reflected. It was also larger than Vana, almost half again the size of the purple dragon. It also had two wavy horns sticking out on the back of its head, along with wings that could easily beat Vana out of the sky.

Vana felt Mari quail slightly at the sight of the intimidating dragon so she felt the need to step up and protect her rider. Baring her sharp fangs, Vana spread herself out on the flat plain, determined to protect Mari in any ways she could. Vana glared up at the rider, as if silently telling him to back down or suffer the consequences. The Urgal simply grinned. Vana hadn't seen many Urgals in her year of life and neither had Mari, but from what they could gather, while the Urgal was larger than average, it was no Kull, though that brought little confidence to Mari. He was seven and a half feet tall, or so Vana could estimate, with horns behind his ears that curled in a full circle once, making a short spiral. His clawed hand gripped a large sword, big enough to be a two handed weapon to a human or elf. The Urgal was barely armored, wearing only a mail shirt and trousers, the dragon baring no armor, only wearing the saddle on its back.

Even facing an unarmored opponent, Vana and Mari were, truthfully, complete novices in skilled combat and Vana felt there was little to no chance that they could win against this foe. Nevertheless, she would put herself between them and Mari for as long as necessary. The orange dragon took a pace forward and Vana tensed visibly, taking a matching step backwards. But before another step could be taken, a voice called out that caught all of their attentions.

"That's enough."

The voice was calm and even, but the authority in it was clear. Mari took her gaze off from the Urgal and turned to see they weren't alone, like she had thought. Her mind had been so focused on their pursuer that she had missed the clear presence of two others in the area. Mari looked at the speaker, and finding herself looking at a tall elf woman, dressed in a simple soft, cropped tunic, leaving her midriff exposed, and felt pants, standing bare feet in the short grass with her arms folded over her chest. She was also wearing a belt across her body, from one shoulder to the other hip and a large claymore held in place along the belt on her back. Like most elves she was taller than the average human, her eyes slanted and her silky black hair was cropped just above the neck. Her stern green eyes were fixed glaring at the Urgal.

Next to her was a massive dragon, even bigger than the Urgal's dragon and easily doubling Vana's size. The dragon looked down at Vana and Mari with intelligent eyes, as if it was sizing them up and deciding what to make of them. Mari and Vana did the same, though they were much more intimidated towards the other dragon than the dragon was towards them. This dragon was a dark brown, looking like it was made of earth rather than Vana looking like gems, or Fírnen like leaves. Its scales looked rough and uneven, even though it made a smooth coat to the touch. The spikes along its body were thick, looking like they were caked in earth, and its large wings were folded along its body in a way that made them seem non-existent, just more uneven surfacing along the dragon's body. The claws however, were what drew Mari's attention. From all the dragons she had seen, none of them possessed claws as defined as this dragon's, thick and sturdy, but razor sharp, Mari could see them digging into the ground from just standing there.

The elf woman looked over at Mari and called over, her voice smooth and calm, but still held a sense of command and made Mari feel like this was not someone to cross. "Are you alright?"

Mari nodded meekly, glancing over at the Urgal, who still sat on his dragon, looking smug. The elf followed her gaze and before her eyes settled on the Urgal and she spoke to him. "Torok, you were supposed to wait for the new rider and lead her here, not start a fight with her."

The Urgal gave a grunt and shrugged. "I was only testing her…and I got her here, didn't I?" Mari was surprised to hear the Urgal talk, for she was expected broken speech, like she heard was common if not expected when Urgals tried to speak the common tongue of the other races in Alagaësia. The Urgal patted his dragon's neck roughly, ignoring the pointed edges and making Mari wince as she watched Torok slapping his hand despite the dragon's spikey hide. "Besides, Kolec wanted to fight." The orange dragon gave a roar as if shamelessly admitting to the fact, making Torok grin.

The elf shook her head in exasperation and turned her attention back on Mari. "Come…the Eragon-elda is waiting…"

Mari swallowed at the thought of meeting the Grand Master of the Dragon Rider Order so soon after her arrival. She had assumed that he'd be too busy, or too important to interact with a brand new rider. But before she could get any word in, the elf had already turned to leave, the massive brown dragon doing the same, stomping along almost sluggishly next to the elf. Mari looked to Vana, who simply blinked, which Mari took to be the same thing as a shrug. Neither of them knew what to do more than the other, so each figured they might as well do as they were told for now. Mari glanced back at Torok, who was still grinning at them, and urged Vana to follow the elf, not wanting to be left alone with the Urgal.

As soon as Mari and Vana started to follow, the elf leapt cat like up her large dragon's foreleg, seating herself on top of the dragon's back. A rather awkward silence fell over the four of them, making Mari glance nervously down at Vana again. Vana gave her a kind of "don't look at me, I don't know what to do…" kind of look with her eye and Mari decided to try and make some conversation with the elf.

"Um…thanks for saving me…" Mari said meekly, and immediately regretted it. She was now a rider, not a helpless village girl. If anything, she should be doing the saving, or at least not being in need of saving. When the elf didn't respond, the feeling of inadequacy only grew and Mari looked away from the elf, dejected.

"Mari…" Vana started to say, but Mari closed off her mind to the purple dragon, like the elves in Ellesméra had taught her to do. She didn't feel like being patronized at the moment.

As the two dragons walked, and the riders rode in silence, Mari ended up passing the time by looking around and slowly felt her depression melt into apprehension at the sights she saw. As she had suspected, the structures they passed were massive, tall enough to allow the elf's dragon to walk into one and probably had room to rear onto its hind legs without fear of hitting its head on the ceiling. The buildings seemed to be made of some sort of smooth stone, with no signs of actually being built and hinting to Mari that magic was somehow involved with their creation. Like the structures in an elven city, everything had a "natural" feel to things, the structures of the buildings, the flora that sprouted between the buildings, the paths like the one they were traveling on, everything felt like it was met to be there, that it had grew there on their own volition.

And then there were the inhabitance. Mari had been expecting it but it still stunned her to see all the riders and dragons that they passed, along with the odd dragonless elf that had decided to aid the city. There were dragons of all kinds, some around the same size as Vana, and one that Mari saw that was even bigger than the brown dragon that they followed. While some had looked around as they passed, most just continued their business, for the sight of a dragon and rider could be said to be a common sighting here. Most of those that they passed were elves and humans, though Mari spotted a couple dwarves and Urgals, the newer additions to the rider order a century ago.

Eventually the elf woman and her dragon that Mari and Vana were following stopped outside an open aired pavilion, where beyond that laid a large, spacious plain. Occupying the pavilion were a couple occupants of the city, and in the field, their dragons roamed, hunting, napping in the sunlight, some even engaging in activities with their riders or other dragons. Mari watched in awe at the sight, never believing she'd see a sight like she saw now, not even noticing the elf woman dismounting her dragon and allowing it to walk around the pavilion and into the field, where it joined a group of two other dragons.

Mari was so engrossed in her surroundings that she barely noticed something tapping on her mental barriers. She opened up and Vana's mind touched hers.

"Mari…they're waiting for you…" Vana said to her.

Mari looked down into the pavilion, seeing the elf woman, along with a few others, looking up at her expectantly. Hastily, Mari undid the straps on her legs and slid out of her saddle, allowing Vana to stretch her neck once Mari was clear.

"I'm sorry!" she said hurriedly as she rushed up to the small cluster. "I was…taking in the sight…" She looked to the elf woman she was following, and was greeted with a stern, almost disapproving look.

"Relax, we're in no hurry." A voice said, a little to Mari's right. Looking over, Mari saw an elf sitting comfortably in a cushioned chair, slid half way down in a comfortable slouch and his hands clasped over his stomach. He smiled kindly to Mari before repeating himself. "Relax. I'm Eragon, and you must be Mari, the new Rider sent by Ayra."

If Mari found it hard to talk before, it was impossible now. She hadn't expected this laid back, rather youthful looking elf would be the Grand Master. Even though it was hard to judge an elf, Mari would bet that the elf woman she had been following was older than Eragon was. She simply nodded hastily, forcing the words through the lump in her throat. "Y-yes…I am...Elda." She hastily added the last word, feeling the need to be respectable and courteous to someone of such high rank.

Over the years, Eragon hadn't changed much, still possessing rather youthful features, smooth pale skin, his face angular and ears pointed like an elf's, with brown hair and eyes. Though some of his facial features were more distinct than an elf's, Mari noticed, like his cheeks and jaw were much more defined. Mari had heard the stories, that Eragon had once been human, around her own age, when he was magically turned into an elf during their Blood-Oath Celebration and now looking at him, Mari couldn't dispute the stories. But if there was one thing Eragon kept over the years, it was his modesty, or at least his aversion to be treated any differently from anyone else.

He smiled, waving his hand slightly in dismissal. "Please…just Eragon is fine." He gestured to one of the cushioned chairs in front of him for Mari to take, which she did.

Then, as if only just remembering, she looked over to Vana. "What about…" Her voice trailed off, looking to Eragon, who took his turn to look at the purple dragon.

He waved over to her, beckoning the dragon over and Vana poked her head into the pavilion, settling it on the ground next to where Mari sat. He smiled at Vana. "And you must be Vana, Mari's dragon, is that correct?"

"Yes, I am." Vana said, though only to Mari's mind. In the silence that followed, Vana's gem like eye swiveled to look at Mari, who had remained silent, and gave her a mental nudge to have her relay the message.

"Y-yes! She is." Mari said hurriedly, and mentally, to Vana, added "Why can't you say it?"

As if knowing what was going through Mari's mind, Eragon spoke up. "Dragons tend to prefer to only communicate to their riders, unless it's someone close to them. It's alright. Saphira did that a lot in the beginning."

"Oh…alright then." Even so, Mari didn't seem too relieved. She kept glancing at the elf woman, who had taken a seat on a couch next to Eragon, next to a human man that Mari hadn't paid too much attention to so far. She had taken off her sword and propped it against the armrest of the couch she sat on so she could sit properly.

Eragon saw Mari looking at the elf and he smiled. "Please, don't worry about Layla. She's not as uptight as she appears to be…"

The elf woman seemed about to reply indignantly before the human's hand went around her back and to her waist, resting on it and making her go straight backed and her reply died away in her throat.

Eragon smiled at the human, as if silently thanking him, before turning to Mari. "Like I said, relax. We're not here to judge you or anything, simply introduce you to our city. We're in no hurry so take a look around, drink in the sight, I'm sure there is a lot here to take in."

Mari nodded slightly. Time was good; time would let her nerves calm down and let her think straight. She looked out to the stretch of green once more. Layla's brown dragon was lounging in the sun, next to two others, their features indistinguishable from this distance other than one was light blue and the other electric yellow. There was also another figure standing between them, Mari assuming that he or she was conversing with the dragons. There were others even further out and as she watched, a couple took to the sky and flew off.

Eventually, Mari looked back at Eragon, who was looking out to the field just like she had been. "Um…"

Eragon looked around at the sound and his eyes settled on Mari. "Question? Or is it just simply not what you expected." He had a kind smile on his face, as if he knew that's exactly what Mari was thinking and didn't fault her for it.

Mari hesitated a little before nodding. "Yes…When I was with the elves, they trained me constantly, hardly any break or rest bit. I just figured it'd be the same here, intense and constant training." Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Layla about to speak up, but the human squeezed her side, making the elf's slowly relaxing posture, though she still sat rather straight backed, tighten up once more.

Eragon's smile broadened and he nodded. "Yes…Ayra likes to make sure that the riders are ready. Not to say I'm not the same, but all work and no play makes for a rather difficult time to learn at all. I know that when I was learning I was being taught during almost every waking moment, but that was because Galbatorix was still at large and time was of the essence. But now, while we are riders, people tend to forget that we are still like other people, we're still human, or elf, or dwarf or Urgal. We still have our need for breaks and a bit of fun." His smile widened. "There is time for training and learning, and there is time for rest and relaxation."

Mari nodded a little. Not that she wasn't thankful for the change from rigorous and ceaseless training, but she then found herself wondering what she'd end up doing instead. However, she found her concerns answered by Layla, who seemed to be either holding the human's hand that was on her waist or trying to pry it off and was being unsuccessful. Or both.

"Most of us usually take what we've been taught and apply it to our free time. We bond with our dragons, practice our magic, and an advanced few aid Eragon in various tasks."

Mari hesitated with her next question, not wanting to step on anyone's toes or overstep her boundaries. "And…are you one of the advanced few?"

If Layla was upset at the question or proud of the claim, she didn't show it, but Eragon stepped in to answer. "Layla was my first student, the first rider to be chosen after me, Murtagh, and Arya. All I can say is, I learned almost as much as she did along the road." Eragon gave a small chuckle at his own expense. "And about a year and a half later, Carrick and Nailah joined us. So far they're the only ones who take up some of my workload." He nodded to the human when he said his name and Carrick gave Mari a small wave with his free hand at the introduction.

Unlike Layla or even Eragon's, Carrick's features were notably human, with a rounded face and ears and a bigger build. While he was by no means bulky, Carrick's physique showed that he exercised regularly. He was clean shaven, with a messy mass of black hair that touched just along his neck. He had a kind, trusting face, and Mari couldn't help but smile at him as he offered her one. Resting between his knees, Mari noticed, was not one but two sheathed swords, thin like Mari's own sword that had been replaced in its sheath on Vana's saddle but Mari could tell from the shape that Carrick's swords had a single edge, rather than two like most rider swords.

Mari didn't know that there were riders that used two swords rather than one, and made a mental note to ask Carrick about it later. But for the moment she looked around a little, looking to see if anyone claimed the third name that Eragon mentioned. "And…Nailah…?"

"What about me?" said a soft, smooth voice, almost instantly in a reply to Mari's question.

Mari looked around to see a second elf woman behind her seat, moving around her chair to stand behind Carrick, a hand on each of his shoulders, which startled Mari for she hadn't heard this woman approaching at all. This elf was much like Layla, lithe, angular facial features, pointed ears, and slanted eyes. Mari guessed that this woman was slightly shorter than Layla, though not by much, and her eyes were blue rather than green. But most noticeable was her hair, which fell all the way down to her knees, and she had a leather strap around her head, holding the hair out of her eyes. While Layla had a feeling of power and stiff authority to her, Nailah seemed soft handed, almost to the point where it seemed like she was indifferent, and less likely to cut your tongue out if you said something wrong or improper. At that thought, Mari's eyes went to Nailah's waist and saw a slim, one handed sword, very much like her own.

Carrick smiled up at her, putting his hand on top of one of Nailah's, which made Mari wonder about the three senior riders and their relation to one another. "Hey, we were just talking about you."

Nailah raised an eyebrow. "Nothing bad I hope?"

Carrick shook his head, still smiling. "Of course not." He nodded to Mari. "Eragon was just introducing the three of us to the new rider is all."

"I see…" Nailah looked at Mari, scrutinizing her just a little more than she had previously.

Mari looked at Nailah for a moment before feeling a slight sense of unease creeping over her. There was something about Nailah's stare, like a predator staring down a prey. No that wasn't it…it was something akin to a mother standing protectively over her children, making sure that those who approached did so without any deceit or ill intentions. It was at that point Mari started to feel that if she were to fear anyone at all, it would be Nailah, not Layla. Carrick seemed to notice Mari's emotions towards Nailah, as did Eragon, for the human looked up at the standing elf and squeezed her hand to get her attention. Nailah looked down at the action and the hard, judging light in her eyes seemed to vanish as her eyes fell on Carrick.

Eragon stood up from his chair, stretching his stiff limbs. He looked to Mari. "Would you like to take a look around?"

Mari nodded, taking her eyes off of Nailah and standing up herself, glad for an excuse to put some distance between the two of them "Of course…"

Eragon nodded in return and started towards the open grass, Mari and Vana following behind him. Glancing over her shoulder, Mari saw that the other three had not moved, though Nailah had decided to finally sit down next to Carrick.

"Don't worry too much about Nailah…" Eragon said after they walked some distance. "She's simply very protective towards the order and the ones closest to her. Both of her parents were killed in the fight against General Barst in Ilirea, after all. The result of a rogue rider…"

Mari hesitated a little. "But…I thought elves weren't ones to hold grudges…I mean with such long lives, they tend to out live those they have grudges against."

Eragon nodded. "That's true. That's also why elves don't mate for life like humans do. After a millennia, I'm sure being tied down to a single person becomes quite…cumbersome…"

Mari processed that for a while before voicing her next question tentatively. "…Is that what you think will happen between you and Arya Dröttning?"

"What do you mean?" Eragon asked. His voice was even, almost nonchalant, but Mari noticed a slight stiffness in his stride now.

"I…overheard a small rumor while in Ellesméra…that you and Arya Dröttning were…very close." Mari tried to find the right words, not wanting to be stepping on anyone's toes.

Eragon stopped near a tall tree, standing in the shade of the branches and looked out over the lounging dragons. He didn't say anything for a while, making Mari think she said more than she should have. But after a while, he sighed. "I don't really know. I haven't seen Arya in almost a century. I can't contact her while she's in Ellesméra, and I'm not SUPPOSED to contact her without a good reason. She's the queen of the elves, and I'm the head of the dragon rider order…If I talk to her in a personal way people will think that in the future I'll end up favoring the elves simply for talking to Arya. And only riders that have come to train and, more importantly, live here have come to this place. Arya has not."

Mari nodded a little, staring down at her feet. "I see…I'm sorry for bringing it up."

Eragon shook his head. "It's alright."

He looked over and Mari saw he was looking behind her so she turned too to see Vana plodding along towards them. Mari smiled and patted the purpled dragon on the snout affectionately.

She then looked over at Eragon, as if something had just occurred to her. "Where's your dragon? Saphira?"

"I-" Eragon started to say but there was the thunderous sound of wings and the three of them looked up to see a large blue object coming towards them. A moment later, a large blue sapphire dragon landed next to Eragon. "…Speak of the devil, there you are."

"…Since when was I the devil?" Saphira queried as she folded her wings in before giving Eragon's side a small nuzzle in greeting.

At the sound of Saphira's thoughts in their minds, Mari and Vana jumped slightly, Mari more so than Vana. They weren't used to others projecting their minds into theirs.

Eragon smiled and patted Saphira's snout, turning to Mari. "Just like you asked, here's Saphira. Saphira, this is Mari and Vana, the-"

"-new rider and dragon." Saphira finished for him. "I thought I smelled new scents."

Mari looked up at Saphira. Once said to be a size just slightly bigger of Vana, Saphira had grown considerably over the century, now almost twice her original size. Mari looked from Saphira to Vana, wondering if the purple dragon would ever grow to be the same size as Saphira was now.

She bowed her head to the blue dragon. "Greetings, Saphira Elda."

Unlike Eragon, who was against such discrimination, Saphira took the honorific title in her stride. She gave a small nod to Mari and then looked to Vana, who looked, almost in awe, up at her superior.

"…Who's bigger? Saphira or Layla's Dragon?" Mari asked, out of curiousity.

"I'm much bigger than Hyperion…" Saphira said tartly, almost as if she was insulted by the question.

"Hyperion is Nailah's dragon, Saphira…she's asking about Fjorgyn." Eragon corrected.

"Oh…Well it gets confusing when they keep trading dragons." Saphira's retort was stiff and she straightened up as if indignant at being called out on making a mistake.

Eragon rolled his eyes before looking to Mari. "Fjorgyn is only slightly bigger, but she isn't as suited for the air as Saphira is. Fjorgyn would much rather dig into the soil and burrow in the ground, hence her name."

Mari blinked a little. Aside from her question being answered, another arose, one more confusing than the last. "Trading dragons? What do you mean, 'trading dragons'? I didn't know riders and dragons could do that…I didn't think they WOULD do that."

Eragon nodded, understanding Mari's confusion. "That is the norm, of course. Most riders are possessive of their dragons, and their dragons the same to their riders, to a near obsessive degree. But those three, Layla, Carrick, and Nailah, are a very special case. Those three and their dragons have bonded to such a point that they act like a dragon and rider would towards each other, if you understand what I mean."

Mari looked towards Vana, and she could feel the dragon's confusion through her thoughts. Mari then looked back at Eragon, voicing what she and Vana were both thinking "You mean…joining their minds together? Share experiences with each other? Stuff like that?"

Eragon nodded again, answering Mari's questions in the affirmative. "And more. They don't just share memories, they share present sensations as well. I'm fairly certain that Nailah knew about you before she came to the pavilion, they've simply learned to accommodate and respect that others would most likely feel uncomfortable if they confide something to one of them, then the other five know instantly without being told directly. They're the only ones who have ever attempted such a feat in all of rider history."

"But…" Mari started, but then felt she was stepping into territory that a new rider such as herself shouldn't be treading in. But Eragon motioned for her to continue, so she did. "Why aren't there others who do that? I mean if Nailah's so concerned about the conviction of the dragon riders…" But before Mari could even finish, Eragon was already shaking his head.

"First of all, would you agree to have them share your every thoughts? To know what you know, to see what you see?" Mari shook her head in the negative. Her thoughts were her own after all, with only Vana having privilege to them. Eragon continued. "To do something like that takes the trust that you would have to your dragon. We riders trust our dragons with our very beings, and our dragons do the same for us. To do that with another rider, however, or another dragon for that matter, is something that is very difficult to do, and even more dangerous. When Galbatorix lost his first dragon, his second dragon, Shruikan, was mentally broken in the attempt. While it was a forceful attempt, the dangers are still present. If there is even a trace of rejection, then the backlash could be fatal." Mari opened her mouth to ask another question but Eragon felt that he knew what the question was, and answered before she could start. "Carrick almost died in their first attempt. He was unconscious for a full month. Nailah apparently had a fleeting sense of doubt in trusting Carrick so deeply but Carrick was already so deep within her mind the feedback that her mind gave off was almost too much for him. It nearly killed him."

Mari suddenly felt very scared of the possibilities that might occur if she were to attempt that and immediately regretted coming up with the idea. "W-what happened to his dragon when this happened?"

"Zephyr?" Eragon looked across the field. Following his gaze, Mari saw him looking at Fjorgyn laying curled up next to who Mari suspected Hyperion and Zephyr. "She was joined with Carrick at the time but she managed to pull herself out and shielded herself just in time. She was hurt but she recovered almost instantly, much quicker than Carrick did. She claimed to be able to talk to Carrick while he was still unconscious, even though none of us could get through to him. It was only because of her certainty that we never gave up on his recovery. Eventually he became conscious once more and he was back to normal, like nothing had happened. He even offered to try again if Nailah was sure of herself."

"And…?" Mari's voice trailed off, wanting to know the result of the second attempt yet fearing the answer at the same time.

"The result is as you see now." Eragon answered, smiling in reassurance. "Often we see them sitting together in silence, and yet they're sharing timeless conversations with each other. As for the dragons, it's the same thing. They have each become bonded with three dragons. Sometimes Carrick would ride Fjorgyn and Nailah would ride Zephyr, Layla taking Hyperion, or any other combination of three riders and three dragons. Though while of course more often than not they prefer their original dragons and the dragons their riders, they still all pair up differently from time to time as if they were their chosen rider and dragon from the very beginning."

Mari nodded, drinking in what Eragon had said with apprehension on her face. "They must trust each other a lot then."

Eragon nodded as well. "More than you think. Like I said earlier, elves aren't usually one to bond with another for life, seeing how they have such long life times. For Nailah and Layla to commit to something like this, even Carrick, who's like any human and his sense of a long time is nothing compared to an elf's, they haven't shown any regret over what they have done. But only time will tell the full results."

Mari looked to Vana once more, who lowered her head so that Mari could stroke the purple snout. Mari thought about being connected to another for the rest of her life. She couldn't lie; she would feel greatly uncomfortable with the idea.

After a short while, Eragon letting Mari process everything and get used to the sights, Mari noticed the sun had more or less reached its apex, marking noon. She looked to Eragon and he smiled.

"Shall we head back? The noon meal should be about done and ready." He suggested. Mari nodded and looked at Vana and Eragon addressed her as well. "If you feel like hunting there's a lot of game just a little further east. Most of the dragons hunt there and the game is bountiful."

Vana nodded her thanks before turning an amethyst eye to Mari. "I will be back soon?"

Mari nodded, kissing Vana on the nose before moving to unsaddle Vana. "Happy hunting." Mari muttered softly to Vana.

Once Mari got all of the equipment off of Vana, the purple dragon gave a cat like stretch of the body before taking off, buffeting Mari and Eragon with a gust of air.

Eragon watched Vana go, Saphira sending another gust of air around as she too took flight. All around them, dragons started to take to the skies to join the midday hunt. As a few disappeared into the distance, Eragon looked to the equipment that Vana had been carrying and raised an open palm to it. "Reisa." At his command, saddle and all of its contents rose a couple inches off the ground and floated there. He smiled to Mari. "Come, let's put this in your new living space and we can get something to eat ourselves."