Arya arose from waking dreams, and from her bed, taking her sword. She looked in the mirror, marvelling for a brief moment. It was made of glass, a creation of the dwarves; sand that had been melted down, and through a rather long and complex manner, cooled. The dwarves were rather impressive when it came to such handicrafts, and the fact that they handcrafted the mirror, and almost everything else they made, made it more impressive. There were few spells in much that they did, and that which had magic woven into it were ever more impressive. Their rooms alone were a monument to their skills, as without a single spell, they created a system for air conditioning. Even the Eldar- nay, the elves. Even the elves had to admit that they were superior, at least when it came to metalwork and the like, for it was from the Dwarves that they learnt windowmaking.
She tied back her hair, and left the healers' chamber, after explaining swiftly to the healers that she was in better condition than any human. She needed to talk to… Eragon, that was his name. She needed to speak to him as soon as possible. She'd wasted enough time as it is, and time was running out. She went to Ajihad first, though.
As she made her way down the halls of Tronjheim, Arya's mind drifted to Elrond. Elrond Half-Elven, his name was, and yet he seemed fairer and mightier than any Elf, and certainly more so than any Half-Elf in history. And with good reason, for he had lived longer than any Elf in history. The song of his mind was as an orchestra, singing epics and retelling legends. The things he'd seen, just of these 'Maiar', could fill a tome. Oh, and the things he knew of the world! The things he could teach! Knowledge passed down from those who studied under the gods themselves! The elves in Ellesméra, many who spent centuries upon centuries trying to decipher the secrets of the universe, their knowledge combined would be as tree compared to a forest.
And the Maiar. Elrond had made reference to this Gandalf, hinting that he was one of the Maiar. If he was one of those beings, so powerful and wise, then there would be no war. If he were so inclined, he could very well march to the usurpers throne and strike him down, and obliterate Shruikan. Arya pushed these thoughts out of her mind. She knew little of this Gandalf, this Mithrandir, and his motivations. And godly beings in the stories of men and dwarves had ever been fickle.
At last she reached Ajihads office doors, the guards letting her by without delay. She knocked on the ebony doors.
"Enter," commanded the booming, slightly impatient voice.
Arya opened the doors, and strode over to the leader of the Varden, who was looking over reports. He had an aged look about him, as if the hours were years. When he looked up, the ages disappeared, but only slightly.
"Arya, it's good to see you again," Ajihad said warmly. "Please, have a seat."
"It is good to see you again too, Ajihad," said Arya, sitting down.
Ajihad was quiet for a moment, thinking of a tactful way to get to the heart of the matter. Not the debriefing, that was a secondary matter. He likely knew enough already. At last he spoke.
"You can't take Eragon to Ellesméra just yet, Arya," said Ajihad. "We suspect there might be an army of Urgals headed here, or maybe even here already, hiding. We'll needed both you and him. And his dragon, Saphira."
Arya nodded. "I am aware of that, Ajihad. Lord Elrond spoke to me of the impending battle already. But I have need to test Eragon, at the least. And the sooner, the better. He has had a harrowing journey, I am sure, but I must know his limits."
Ajihad nodded gravely. "I see. The Twins are testing him as we speak in his proficiency in magic."
Arya frowned. The Twins? Surely there were better options? Or perhaps not, considering the skills of the resident magicians. Regardless, this would be better, in a way. "Good. It would be best to see how he fares after using magic much."
"Perhaps," said Ajihad. "But I think, if you wish to test him, you should go now. You must tell me of your tale later. I know only the bare details."
Arya nodded, and took her leave. If the Twins were testing Eragon then she needed to be swift. Those two were never up to any good, always seeking to increase their own power. They were fools and cowards. They ever had an ill, slimy manner about them. She wouldn't trust them to test the Queen of the Elves without some plot to gain power, let alone a barely trained Dragon Rider.
She quickened her pace. What she was about to do was not a test of strength, nor even truly skill. Eragon was young. He could no more stand against her than he could a hurricane. No, this would be a test of will. Would he be willing to fight? If he travelled with Brom, then he likely knew about Elves and their strength, even if it were simply that they were far stronger than he. But would he put that knowledge to any meaningful use? He was, after all, human. She was quite aware the effect Elves had on humans. If he were willing to fight her, he would be willing to fight nigh on any foe. Even Durza.
Soon enough, she found herself upon the training grounds. Far in the distance, amidst the fighting mortals, were Eragon, Saphira, and the Twins. She felt herself snarl. She sped up.
She spun around. It was lord Elrond. An old man walked besides him, shorter than Elrond, holding a large staff. He wore a pointy, old, blue hat, and was clad in grey. His grey beard swayed in the wind, and he had a wizened look to him, not unlike Elrond. He seemed all together ancient, and yet confoundingly mortal.
She hesitated. Then she decided she would be quick, but polite.
When they neared, she bowed. "Lord Elrond. And lord Gandalf?"
They both bowed, and the older looking one spoke. "It is an honour to finally speak with you, lady Arya."
"We were just on our way to speak to Eragon and Saphira," said Elrond. "It seems you were too."
Arya nodded. "Indeed, lord Elrond. I have great need to talk to him, and to test him."
Both Gandalf and Elrond raised their eyebrows at this, though whether out of surprise, amusement, or simple curiosity, she could not tell.
"Well then, by all means," said Gandalf. "Let us be off."
Gandalf watched the interaction with a keen eye. He and Elrond agreed to stay back, on a small hill, and watch events unfold. But there was something strange about the Twins. Gandalf knew they were uncaring and manipulative, and almost certainly petty, but that they would risk Eragons life? That they would demand he cast an unnecessary spell that only masters could achieve? It seemed foolish and dangerous, even for them. What did they hope to achieve? Did they not have their petty revenge already, exhausting the boy? He doubted Eragon would join them. He watched them scuttle off. He frowned, but let them be, for the time. He would track them down later.
For now, his attention was turned to the Elf and the Dragon Rider. Arya had challenged Eragon to a duel. Not, he suspected, to test the boy's skills with a sword, at least not entirely. Nor to measure his strength or might.
"What do you think, Lord Elrond?" he asked. "A test of will, perhaps?"
Elrond nodded. "It would be most likely. Eragon has no real chance."
Gandalf nodded, and the two watched carefully as the two duellers drew their blades. Though they stood behind the gathered crowd, they could still see clearly from their vantage point.
Then with a flourish, Arya attacked. Both Gandalf and Elrond's eyes widened. Arya fought with a speed that was uncommon, even amongst the Eldar of the third age. The young Elf fought with speed and strength that would have matched the Sindar in the First Age, whilst they were yet under the rule of Melian.
Backwards and forwards swayed their duel, and while Eragon clearly held back at first, he soon realised how outmatched he was, and gave it his all. But even to the untrained eye, the battle was clearly ever in Arya's favour.
The duel lasted well into the day, until at last Arya disarmed Eragon, and held her blade to his throat. She sheathed her sword, and made her way through the crowd. Elrond moved to speak to Eragon, but Gandalf stopped him.
'Come, Elrond,' spoke Gandalf in Elrond's mind. 'There is other business to attend to. And I think she and Eragon must speak alone. There is much for them to speak about.'
Elrond nodded. 'You wish to interrogate the Twins?' Gandalf nodded, and the two turned the way the Twins left.
Gandalf and Elrond hurried down the gravely path, swiftly making their way to Ajihads office. The Twins, they reasoned, would most likely go to Ajihad to give their report. They were, after all, subservient to Ajihad.
"Regardless of how treacherous they may seem," said Gandalf darkly.
At that, Elrond raised an eyebrow. "You suspect them of treachery, Gandalf?" It made a certain sense to Elrond, though he knew them very little. They had an ill manner about them when first he met them, at the library. That Gandalf had affected one of them so did nothing to sway his favour towards them. Not to mention their demand that may have done great damage to Eragon. All this spoke of treachery.
"Yes," muttered Gandalf. "But I doubt we have enough evidence to speak directly to Ajihad, certainly not while they are there. We can, however, demand answers from the Twins."
They passed through the halls of Tronjheim, to the office of Ajihad. On the way, they asked if some people if the Twins came that way. Though the Men and Dwarves were less than eager at first, when Elrond and Gandalf made it clear they were suspicious of the Twins, they were more eager.
"Careful, though," said one man. "They're slippery, they are. Their two of the most powerful magic users we've got too, seeing as Brom's gone. Ajihad has to keep 'em around, since only they can reliably investigate newcomers' memories."
"We have both caught slipperier foes then they," assured Gandalf, thanking him.
Soon, they came to the doors of the office of Ajihad. There were two guards there. Gandalf came up to one.
"Excuse me, sir," he said. "Are the Twins still reporting to Ajihad?"
The guard shook his head. "Nay. They left some time ago. I know not whence they went."
"I see," muttered Gandalf, annoyed.
"I know where they might have gone," said the other guard. "There are tunnels that leads down to the lowest parts of Farthen Dûr. Then, some that are even lower. You'll find the Twins there, if nowhere else. In the lowest, darkest cave of Farthen Dûr, conducting some foul experiment or another."
"Thank you," said Gandalf. "Could you give the directions?"
The guard nodded, but before he could say anything, a dwarf holding a scroll ran up to them, looking flushed. "Knurla ghabazed! Gáld-vanyali! Do not go anywhere! King Hrothgar has urgent news for you and Ajihad."
Gandalf and Elrond raised their eyebrows at this, and shared a look. They both guessed at once the Dwarves message. The dwarf in question passed by them and burst through the doors. There was a brief exclamation from inside, followed by silence. Then Ajihad and the dwarf came out. Ajihad wore a grim expression on his face.
"Gandalf, Elrond. Good, you're already here," he said. "Hrothgar's spies have returned, and they bring grave news, which you have likely already guessed. I will not speak of it now. First, Arya, Eragon, and Saphira, and a few others, must be summoned to the war council. I trust you'll join us."
"If we are permitted," said Gandalf.
"Few here would deny you, I suspect," said Ajihad. Then he turned to the dwarf. "Quickly, go to the training fields and search for Arya and the Dragon Rider and Dragon. And find Orik, if he isn't with them. Tell them what has happened."
The dwarf bowed and hurried off. Then Ajihad turned and bid Gandalf and Elrond follow him. As they walked, Gandalf turned his thoughts to defending the mountain. The dwarven kingdom, much like Erebor or Moria, was built with scores of different tunnels, many of which had passed from common knowledge. If Galbatorix found these tunnels, he might be able to attack Tronjheim from almost all sides. They would need to block off the tunnels, and ensure the flow of Galbatorix's forces were directed to where they could defend easiest. Of course, they can't block of all the tunnels. But perhaps an illusion on those that couldn't be blocked or collapsed would suffice.
Gandalf then wondered about Murtagh. This, if nothing else, would be an excellent time to prove his worthiness to the Varden. If he managed to survive the oncoming battle. He should have spoken with him again before now. Such a pity battle was so soon coming. He was finally feeling safe.
At last, they came to a large room. King Hrothgar stood there, waiting for them, a grim look on his face. There stood a few other dwarves and men, and there were reports on a table in the centre, some in the runic language of the dwarves, or Knurlan, as they named themselves, and others in Westron.
"Gandalf, Elrond, Ajihad," said the dwarf-king gravely. "I'm glad you could make it here so soon. Will the others be here shortly?"
"They should be here shortly," answered Ajihad.
They waited then for a time in anticipation. Everyone present knew why they were there, and Gandalf could see the waiting wearing them down. He frowned, and poured forth power from Narya, which had warmed and strengthened his heart. The faces of the men and dwarves lifted, and there fears, though not abated, were challenged by new hope. Elrond caught his eye and gave a small smile.
After roughly thirty minutes, Arya, Saphira, and Eragon arrived, along with Orik rushing in a minute later.
"What's happened?" asked Eragon. "All I know is that spies have returned, and that there is great danger."
"Indeed," said Ajihad. "King Hrothgar's spies have returned carrying terrible news. The Urgals have been discovered in an ancient city to the west of Farthen Dûr."
"WHAT?" exclaimed Eragon. "How is that possible?"
"The city is ancient," said Hrothgar. "It is known as Orthíad, and was abandoned after the completion of Tronjheim. The tunnels there are ancient. If they collapsed, then they would be quite visible from the surface."
A man strode forward and pointed at a map of the Beor Mountains on the table. "The Urgals are marching swiftly from this point. They're maybe a day and a half away."
"Thank you, Jörmundur," said Ajihad. "We're fortunate that we've learnt about this so soon. It seems Gandalf's suspicions were correct."
Orik now stepped forth, saying, "If the Urgals have access to Orthíad, they likely have access to hundreds of tunnels, and could attack Tronjheim from anywhere!"
"Which is why we must collapse and block off as many tunnels as we can," said Hrothgar. "We must drive them into a more desirable place, or rather, a less undesirable place."
"Why not just collapse all the tunnels?" asked Eragon.
"Because that would cause the collapse of Tronjheim," explained Gandalf. "Tronjheim sits upon an intricate network of tunnels. If too many are collapsed, so is Tronjheim."
Hrothgar nodded, taking a new map, and placed it beside the old. It was a map of tunnels sprawled around and under Farthen Dûr. "Rightly said, Gandalf. There are, however, a number of tunnels that can be safely collapsed."
Now Gandalf stepped forth, and Elrond followed, and the two stared keenly at the different maps. He spoke silently with the Eldar, debating back and forth. At last, Gandalf spoke aloud.
"It is but a suggestion," he said slowly, pointing to different tunnels, "But Elrond and I have agreed that these tunnels would be the best to collapse. If we do, it will be all the easier to lead them here," he pointed a spot between Farthen Dûr and a lake, where the name Tarnag stood. "That way, those who cannot or will not fight can have an undeterred escape to Surda. The Urgals will also be in the shadow of the city Tarnag, who you could summon for aid, should the battle go ill."
"Another thing," began Elrond, looking up. "There is little doubt in our minds that the Shade Durza will appear. If he does, then his death will be a priority for the five us. That is, me, Gandalf, Eragon, Saphira, and Arya. There is no one else who could stand against him."
"Not to mention it is possible that," said Gandalf, "with Durza defeated, the Urgal army will be halted."
"What makes you think that lord Elrond, Gandalf?" asked Jörmundur.
"Because a young lady called Angela came and spoke to me," said Gandalf. "And from her words, I managed to deduce that Durza likely, and I mean only likely, controls the Urgal army."
The council blinked. "Angela? How would she know?" asked Eragon.
"Indeed," agreed Jörmundur, a suspicious tone creeping into his voice. "How do you know you can trust her?"
Ajihad raised a hand to calm his second in command down. "If she says something as serious as that, I believe we can trust her. She's been a reliable ally in the past. Can I ask what else she said."
"Nothing, I regret to say, that any here might find helpful, or even like," said Gandalf.
"Alright," said Ajihad. "Then we must work as swiftly as possible. Lord Elrond, Gandalf, Eragon, Saphira, and Arya, would you help the dwarves collapse tunnels? Jörmundur, you shall prepare the Varden for battle. King Hrothgar, of course, will do with the dwarves as he sees fit. I will send messengers to the kingdom of Surda, and to the Elves, and then speak with Du Gata Vrangr. And hopeful Angela, while I'm at it. And the best of luck to all of us. May the gods see us through this."
Thank you for your patience. I hope this doesn't seem too hasty an ending. Tell me what you think, please.