Author's note: And so, we start on the second leg of the 'Walking the Realms' series. To those of you who have never heard of me or my work before, this is a sequel to my other fic 'Trial By Lightning'. A summary? Well, the multiverse exists, the OC fights evil stuff that comes from it, and he looks after Eragon and Saphira while trying not to screw up the timeline. To those of you who read Trial, welcome back! I hope you find this to be as good, if not better, than it. Or at least, being a worthy successor to it. Anyway, enough of me waffling. Enjoy!

With thanks to my patrons:
Regal Eagle

In response to reviews from the final chapters of Trial By Lightning:
Blaze1992: Trial, and this are solely from Cade's perspective. Sorry about that. However, I often flick to someone else's POV in the snapshots, at that allows me to worldbuild. And your 'horrible thought' can and probably has happened. I might do that as a snapshot...
d8rkforcen1ight: Thanks, dude! And Rift... isn't really 'trying' to be human, just a better person. She has a lot of things to improve on.
milapvyuli: Will do, and thanks!
HalflingHobbit: Thanks, and I understand. If you're in the Discord server, feel free to ask me questions and stuff there.
dragonauthor: I think you might have misread something. Eragon did get wounded, and he will become the elf-like hybrid he does. Just... in a way that will be a bit conflicting. As for a universe for your Doomslayer OC, something involving hell or demons, right!? :D
Codj: I try to make this madness realistic, even if it didn't seem that way (I'm fairly new to writing, sorry), but as you say, I kind of let my imagination run riot. I'm glad you enjoyed the story, and I get the issue with technology. However, it would make sense to gain an edge in some areas, and remember that Cade is a teenager. He likes his tech and gaming. And yes, there are a few plotholes when I read back through Trial. I tried to fix them, but as I said. I'm not a professional writer. I feel that I tried my best. And your point about Cade being more revered makes sense. But since Trial itself was a retool of the car crash that came before it, I'm not re-writing it. And the moral conflicts... I hopefully resolved that in a way that made sense.
Man4God: Thank you!
Daniel Clausen: Thanks dude. Yeah, I had some trouble with it, and it was long, which was why it took me a while to publish.
W1LL14m: Will do.
LyingFungus: That plot information is classified.
Guest: Thanks! :D

Disclaimer: I do not own the IC.

Beta read by: Regal Eagle, Slack Frost

Chapter 1: Back in action

So, you're back. Good thing too! We have a lot more of our story to tell. Presumably you've read our previous tale, Trial by Lightning. You'll know how we died, got blasted across the multiverse, and landed in Alagaësia, the land of magic and dragon riders. You'll know how we met Eragon and Saphira, learned that we were a Plainswalker, and reunited with our cousin. You'll know that we've fought off an army of Urgals, killed an enhanced Shade, and saved the Varden and the Dwarves. If you don't, what the heck are you doing here?! Go and read about our awesomeness!

Anyway, we pick up a little after we left off. The Battle of Farthen Dûr had been won, and Durza was dead. We were finally up and about again, Amara making sure that we didn't exert ourselves too much. We had all our stuff back and were still recovering from our battle with the Shade. During the fight, we'd discovered a new Riftheart ability that we'd called Rinjai. Like when Godzilla had fire bursting from between his scales when he went into burning mode, we had channels of rift energy spread all over our body, and our eyes and horns turned a glowing orange colour.

While we had it active, what we could do with it was only restricted with how creative we could be. In our battle against Durza, we'd utilised some kind of omni-directional lasers to take out multiple targets at once, unleashed a pulse, and had thrown a punch that threw a bolt- all of them made out of rift energy. We hadn't had the strength to go Rinjai again since, but we were eager to start experimenting with what we could and couldn't do. After all, you couldn't find the boundaries of something without pushing them until they stopped.

By our count, this was the day where Ajihad was killed, and Murtagh was captured. Again, like so many times in the past, our conscience prodded at us to act. However, we couldn't. Murtagh needed to be captured so Thorn could hatch, and so we could get the name of names. Ajihad needed to die so Nasuada could take his place and attack the Empire.

The two of them had gone off on a mission to get rid of any Urgals still lurking in the tunnels of Farthen Dûr this morning. However, to try and satisfy our moral conflict, we needed to subtly ask Murtagh whether he was willing to do what was going to happen, before it happened.

Pulling him aside before he left, with Eragon as our translator, we asked "Hypothetically, if you could save a lot of people in the long run, but you'd have to suffer yourself, would you do it?"

Murtagh considered the question. "I… I wouldn't like the concept, but if it meant that innocent lives could be saved, I'd do it."

We nodded. To us, that was confirmation. By being our spy without knowing it, Murtagh would get us the Name of Names from Galbatorix's own mouth due to the bug we'd secretly hidden in his shoulder. Everything it received was transmitted from it to the three Imperial Knights that contained our Eldunarí. They ran everything through certain algorithms that would alert us when the Name was in discussion, and would record what the Name actually was.

So Murtagh and Ajihad had left Tronjheim along with the Twins and an escort of soldiers as we wandered around the former battlefield with Eragon and Saphira, our height about a head taller than the blue dragoness. Amara had decided that she wanted to start training with the sword that her human form possessed, so she was training somewhere with Arya, determined to master the blade. Our three Knights needed a resupply of fuel and ammunition, but we hadn't had the opportunity to take them to Locostral yet, so they were assisting the dwarves with clearing up the rubble from a load of stalactites that we'd blasted free from the roof, crushing thousands of Urgals. We were also unarmoured, as Skölir had a gaping hole in the plates that would usually cover our chest. Despite the dwarves' offer to repair it, we politely declined. We had made Skölir- with help, of course, so we'd be the ones to fix it.

Eragon had started suffering from attacks of pain stemming from his back. Durza's wound had taken a great toll on the young Rider, just like in the books. Despite having access to futuristic tech, Angela couldn't exactly show it off without rousing suspicion. She'd managed to fix Eragon as best she could using modern equipment, but that didn't stop the attacks. They seemed to be partly mental too, the physical pain triggering a phantom one from when the wound was inflicted.

And nobody could help. At least, not yet. We knew that Eragon would be healed at the Blood-Oath celebration in Ellesméra, but then we witnessed one of his attacks. We silently promised ourself that as soon as we revealed the multiverse was a thing, we'd take the young Rider to Locostral and get the doctors there to fix him up. Angela and Amara immediately agreed to the plan, and so all we had to do was wait for the right time.

The Blood-Oath celebration was originally when we planned to unveil what we really were, but we'd bumped our schedule up so that it would be when Eragon and Saphira had become students to Oromis and Glaedr in Ellesméra. Then we could show them, Islanzadí, Orik and Arya the truth as Angela did the same with Nasuada, and Hrothgar if the Varden weren't quite finished with the move to Surda. That hadn't even started yet though, so it came down to what happened in the next few days to decide what the future would bring. And it was up to us to keep it on track.

"What do you two think about what happened?" Eragon asked, bringing us out of our thoughts. "All this fighting. All this death. How it changes us."

"The Urgals were our enemies." Saphira said simply. "We had to kill them, or be killed ourselves. It hardened us, and taught us what warfare is truly like. It is unfortunate that so many had to die, but it was necessary for us to survive. You are still a good person Eragon, even if you had to take lives. Do not let anyone else tell you otherwise."

Despite Saphira's more survivalist response, we gave Eragon our own answer.

"We don't like killing." Sparta started. "Although I like being in combat, we try not to kill if there's another option. No option presented itself."

"Even if we'd tried diplomacy, the Urgals would have attacked." Kevin added. "They were under Durza's control, and they only retreated once we stabbed Omen and Zar'roc through his heart. Sometimes, fighting is the only option."

Driscol nodded. "As for war changing us, you're not wrong. It does, but if you have a reason to fight, and the reason is morally right, then you're still a good person. It was a situation where we would have been killed or enslaved if we offered no resistance. The cause we fight for- the Varden- would have fallen, and the dwarves would have been wiped out if the Urgals won and used the tunnel network to travel to the other dwarven cities. Those reasons justify why you had to take lives."

"You sound like your conscience gave you the same question." Eragon said.

"It did."

We walked in silence for a while, circling the former battlefield before starting to make a slow circuit around Tronjheim.

"What do you think dying is like?" Eragon asked out of the blue.

We suppressed a laugh into a snort, earning two incredulous stares from our friends. They didn't know it, but we were specialists in that department. Despite both of them pestering us to explain why we found it funny, we kept our mind shut. Our mentor Islingr, who was an Eldunarí and knew about our death, and our quest to protect the realms, chuckled in the back of our heads. At least someone else saw the irony.

We were saved by Jörmundur, who hurried towards us, bowed, and said "I'm glad I found you three- sorry, five in time. Ajihad is returning, and he wants you to be there when he arrives. The others are already waiting by Tronjheim's west gate. We'll have to hurry to make it in time."

Eragon and Saphira nodded, and we gave him a thumbs up. Then the five of us started making our way to the gate, the young Rider keeping a hand on his partner to support himself as Jörmundur hurried away.

We briefly wondered what it would be like to be a bonded dragon. It would create a unique relationship between us and our Rider, but it would also restrict us. If they were on our back, we wouldn't be able to fully unleash our storm powers, we wouldn't be able to go Rinjai, and we wouldn't even be able to fly without limits. Humans and elves still needed oxygen. On the plus side, we'd get a lifelong companion who could use Alagaësian magic, which was something we couldn't do.

Eventually, we stepped into a pool of lamplight at the gate, illuminating a crowd. Amara was replicating a sword strike in slow motion, and Arya was instructing her on how exactly the motion should be performed. Orik was drumming his fingers on his ax. Jörmundur talked with someone about how much equipment we'd managed to recover from the battle.

As everyone saw us, there were shouts of "Shadeslayers!" and "Brightscales!"

We nodded politely at the praise. Ever since we'd woken up, people had been calling us and Eragon that. He said that he didn't feel worthy of such a title. To us, it felt like it was just another name. We had none of the fear of a Shade that the inhabitants of Alagaёsia did. We didn't know any of the tales of things they had done, or how hard they were supposed to be brought down. Killing- well, dispelling Durza had been easy. We'd torn him apart and kicked him off a roof. Killing enhanced Durza had been fairly easy. We had a good distraction, and we knew when to strike. It was the Shadow powers that had made him more difficult to deal with.

Interestingly, Durza's sword had been offered to us and Eragon as it had survived the battle. Eragon hadn't wanted anything more to do with the Shade, and so we'd been asked whether we wanted it. We had. Amara had ferried the sword back to Locostral for us, and it was undergoing a full scan through magic and technology to determine if anything related with Shadows was hidden in it.

So far, it was a perfectly normal weapon, but we weren't even a tenth of the way through all the scans. It made sense, though. A Shadow- or possible Shadows wouldn't entrust anything of value to a third party, especially if that third party was to go into battle with a Plainswalker. If the Plainswalker got hold of said artefact, like we had now, we'd be able to analyse it for weaknesses.

Speaking of Locostral, our Clanmates had been very worried about us. Gem had almost demanded that Amara bring her to us, and Jacob was freaking out that we were gonna die, and the others were worried that we wouldn't be back among them. Needless to say that when they found out we were okay, they were pretty relieved. So relieved that Gem lifted the jelly bean ban, thank the multiverse.

Amara had brought a massive bag of them back for us, but it had suspiciously vanished. All we found in its place was a sticky paw print that looked suspiciously like it belonged to a certain blue dragoness. We'd decided not to investigate, but we had started slipping Saphira the type of glance that said 'I know what you did'. Her nervous reactions were almost enough to make up for the theft.

"Urgals!" Eragon shouted in warning, completely shattering our thought process.

The young Rider climbed onto Saphira, and the two of them shot towards the nearest tunnel. We started running after them on all fours, easily keeping pace with them. Arya ran alongside us, but the others trailed. A flash of light from behind us indicated that Amara had shifted into her draconic form, but we were too busy charging gravity beams to look back.

There was a muddle of combat. We had no clear shot. That was more of a relief than a concern, sadly. By the time we got to the fight scene, it was all over. No-one remained alive except the dying Ajihad. Well… fuck. We'd thought that we'd be able to at least save someone.

"Eragon… Saphira…" Ajihad wheezed.

"We are here, Ajihad." They said as one.

"You must… you must promise me something. Please… promise that you won't let the Varden fall into chaos. Apart from Ghidorah… they are the only hope for resisting the Empire. They must be strong… they must be united. Please, promise me this…"

"We promise." both dragon and Rider swore.

"Then peace be with you, Eragon Shadeslayer, Saphira Brightscales… and tell Nasuada… tell her that I love her with all my heart."

And so, Ajihad passed. We didn't hang around long after that, guilt swelling up inside us. Only long enough for Arya to pursue the Urgals, everyone else to arrive, and for Ajihad's body to be taken away for burial, along with those of the warriors who had just died. We had no destination in mind. We just wandered. Wandered until we found the room that had been declared as ours, flopped down on the blankets, and slowly exhaled out our nose. Not that we needed to breathe of course, but old habits are hard to break.

"Do you think we could have saved them?" Kevin wondered. "Any of the soldiers, I mean."

"Not without having to rescue Ajihad." Driscol said sadly. "Eragon meets with the Varden's council tomorrow, right?"

"If we remember correctly, yup." Sparta said. "I assume we're going to that?"

"Yes." Driscol said. "Although it'll be keeping watch rather than spoon feeding him the answers. Let him acclimatize to politics. We can't hold his hand all the time. All we have to do is sit there and look pretty."

"...This is kinda narcissistic," Kevin said slowly, "but do you think we're a good-looking dragon?"

"Dunno…" Sparta said. "I mean… we're not exactly hideous, are we? It's hard to make a dragon look ugly."

There was a long pause.

"Is… Is Saphira... good looking?" one of us wondered.

"Same answer." Sparta said. "Now, go to sleep. Goodness knows we need it."


"Shut up, Kevin."


We woke earlier than usual the next morning, and not much was said between ourself. It was better to not think too much on what had happened yesterday. If we dwelt on every single death we could have prevented, we'd just end up as a pool of misery and guilt. Instead, we had things to do. Things to take our minds off thinking. Ammo resupplies, guard duty, locating and stealing back jelly beans, 'liberating' the thief's remaining supply of jelly beans… Yeah. Lots of things.

We padded down the hallways of Tronjheim, our claws clicking on the floor. It was only a two minute walk to Eragon and Saphira's quarters, and so we were still yawning as we sat down beside the large door. Sat, waited, and thought. And thought. We went round in mental circles, had several arguments, and was thoroughly pissed by the time Eragon and Saphira finally made their way towards the kitchens for breakfast.

Sulking slightly, we followed five steps behind them, eyeing the hallway ahead for threats.

"Good morning." Saphira said over her shoulder at us.

"Good morning." Driscol replied with a groan as Sparta and Kevin got into a fight about whether the morning was indeed a good one or not.

Saphira looked at us with pity. "Your other two selves do like bickering, don't they?"

Our center head smiled at the blue dragoness. "They do. But God, I wish they didn't. We should be a team, not trying to bite each other's head off."

That comment alone made both Kevin and Sparta stop their squabbling and droop a little in shame. Driscol was right. We were stronger together than we were apart. We knew that. But we had a bad habit for getting on our own nerves.

Saphira smiled back. "You cannot be alert all the time, Driscol. Let them squabble every now and then."

"I can't." Driscol groaned. "If we start arguing amongst ourself at every opportunity we get, the more likely it's going to be that we have a massive fight and fall out. We're stronger united than we are apart, just like you and Eragon."

The blue dragoness nodded to that, but didn't comment as we entered one of the kitchens. Saphira and we sat on either side of Eragon as he sat at a low, stone table with his food. Several people tried to approach him, but either we or Saphira let out a low growl and sent them packing. Eragon both needed and deserved to be left alone.

"Who do you think has the means to take command of the Varden now that Ajihad and the Twins are gone?" Eragon asked.

Saphira pondered the question. "It's… possible that we could, if Ajihad's last words were interpreted as a blessing to take the position. Almost nobody would oppose us, but it does not seem like a wise path to take. It would stir up too much trouble for us."

"I agree." Eragon nodded. "Arya wouldn't approve, and she could be a dangerous opponent. Besides, we'd have to appoint someone to take over for us when we go to be instructed by the elves. Besides, I don't want the position."

"We... could, if nobody else was suitable." Sparta proposed. "We have experience in combat, we're possibly the most powerful being in this world, and we think strategically. The hard part would be convincing everyone that we're worth following, and keeping them obedient."

"The Varden would rather take orders from a human than a dragon." Kevin pointed out. "We'd also get bugged with a gajillion problems a day, most of them being non-military, and we'd easily lose our temper through all the political bullshit. And last time we lost our temper, we obliterated a good portion of a city."

"So we'd only take command as a last resort." Driscol finished.

Eragon and Saphira stared at us in shock. "What city?"

Kevin gave the rest of us an 'oh, crap' look, but Driscol said "We'll tell you... when we're ready. It's a bit of a sensitive subject. Still, back to the conversation at hand. Who would lead if none of us do?"

Neither dragon or Rider looked pleased at the change in the subject, but Eragon eventually said "What about Jörmundur? Ajihad did call him his right-hand man."

"I don't know." Saphira confessed. "Unfortunately, we know little of him or any of the Varden's other leaders. We have only stayed here for a week. We will have to make our judgement on our feelings and impressions rather than previous experiences. Of course, you've been here longer than us, Ghidorah. Do you have anyone in mind for the position?"

"We've only been here a week, tops." Sparta said. "We don't know many people, but we are thinking about someone. We won't say who it is though. We don't want to influence your judgement, but we'll tell you after you make a decision."

"Well that's helpful." Eragon groaned. "Still, we have to watch out for the other factions here. Hrothgar and the dwarf clans won't remain quiet in all this. Hrothgar may favour the Varden, but many of the dwarf clans do not. He may be pressured into backing someone unsuited for command. Apart from Arya, the elves will have no say in who is chosen. And there will certainly be groups such as Du Vangr Gata who will make a grasp for power."

"And who would this unsuited person be?" Saphira wondered.

"A person easily manipulated." Eragon sighed. "It could be anyone in Farthen Dûr, anyone at all."

We smiled at both our friends. "Good job. You understand the threat, and you know how you should respond to it. You're both learning. Just remember that in politics, people are generally gunning for what they want rather than what the people under them want. Try and outmaneuver the restrictions they want to put on you. Think outside the box."

Eragon and Saphira both nodded at the praise and advice. The young rider pushed his food around his plate unenthusiastically. Saphira ruffled her wings and looked down at her scales. We pondered how much bullshit the council would put us through.

Eventually, a young boy came up to us. He was nervous, especially around Saphira and us, but he patiently waited for Eragon to notice him. The Rider didn't, too wrapped up in his thoughts, so we put our hand on his head and turned it to make him look at the boy.

"This kid is here to fetch you, we think." Kevin said to him as he glared up at us.

"Oh, sorry." Eragon said apologetically as he looked back to the boy. "What is it?"

"You… er, you have been summoned, Argetlam and great dragons, to speak before the council of Elders."

"Who are they?" Eragon asked.

The poor kid looked rather flustered, but he tried his best to answer. "Well, the- the council is… are… people we- the Varden, I mean, choose to speak on our behalf to Ajihad. They were his trusted advisors, and now they wish to see you! It is a great honour!"

"Are you to lead us to them?" Eragon asked.

"Yes sir, I am."

Saphira glanced at Eragon questioningly. He shrugged and got up, with both us and Saphira following suit.

Motioning for the kid to show us the way, Eragon asked "What are you called?"

"Jarsha, sir."

"That's a good name. You carried your message well; you should be proud."

Jarsha beamed. "Thank you, sir! See, usually my sister would be running messages, but she managed to persuade Uncle Fredric into letting her join the Varden's army."

"You mean Jasmine?" We asked him.

The messenger gasped, but quickly recovered himself. "Yes, sir! She told me all about you, and how much of a hero you are!"

We smiled. "Well, maybe you can be a hero too when you grow up."

"You really think so?"

"If you train hard, we don't see why you couldn't be a hero."


Eventually, we reached a slightly rounded door, which the young kid pushed open. The room beyond it was circular, with a domed ceiling covered in constellations. There was a round, marble table in the middle of the room, with the sigil of the Dûrgrimst Ingeitum on it. Seated around it were Jörmundur, two other guys, and two women.

"You may go" Jörmundur dismissed Jarsha.

The young messenger quickly bowed and left, leaving us, Saphira and Eragon with someone we vaguely knew and four unknowns. Eragon sat in the middle of a cluster of chairs so that he was the opposite side of the table from the council. Saphira sat directly behind him, her chin almost resting on his head. We debated shrinking down and taking a seat, but ultimately decided against it. We couldn't easily sit on chairs with our tails, so we just plonked our butt on the floor beside our friends.

"Thank you for coming, Eragon, even though you have suffered your own loss." Jörmundur said. "These are Umérth, Falberd, and Sabrae and Elessari."

"And what of the Twins?" Eragon asked, nodding in acknowledgement. "Were they part of this council?"

We kind of tuned out of the conversation after that, thinking about how it would be best to break the subject of the multiverse to our friends. The best way would probably be an explanation followed by a demonstration. And explaining why we had to lie about it. That would be awkward.

Dropping back into the conversation, we heard Umérth say "We want you to be present at the appointing- no one, not even Hrothgar, can complain about it then- and for you, Eragon, the Golden Guardian, and the other dragon to swear fealty to the Varden. That will give back the confidence that Ajihad's death has stolen from the people, and prevent anyone from trying to splinter this organisation. With three dragons on our side, who would try to stop us?"

Eragon and Saphira went into a hurried mental conference that we didn't hear as Jörmundur gave us an apologetic look. We wanted to explode at the council right there and then, but we decided to let Eragon come to his own decision.

"This is disgraceful!" Islingr growled to us. "No dragon or Rider should ever swear fealty! We are an independent system from the rest of Alagaësia. We uphold it's laws, and yet we are not truly part of any of its races. This… this is an outrage!"

"They're filthy power-grabbers." Sparta agreed. "Although I think that Jörmundur might have been forced into this. We're not letting them push us into a corner. We protect Eragon and Saphira, and we kill Shadows. That's our job, we decide how we do it, and we won't let anyone who doesn't even know about the multiverse try and make us swear fealty."

"Good, Cade-finarel." our mentor said. "The Riders are supposed to be an independent organisation. The Plainswalkers must remain independent. You must never swear fealty to anyone. The consequences of any of these toads discovering your people's level of technology are too dire to risk."

We sent back a wave of agreement as the conversation got to the point of "Wait. Your word, though, Rider. Will you give it in fealty at the ceremony?"

"Yes, you must do that." The one called Falberd agreed. "The Varden would be disgraced if we couldn't provide you with every protection."

Eragon sighed. "I'll give it."

"And you, Golden Guardian?" Elessari asked. "Will you and your fellow dragon swear fealty to us? With our army's might combined with your power, nothing could oppose us!"

Jörmundur covered his face with his hand. Poor guy. He knew what was going to happen next.

We slowly got up, our eyes narrowing as three growls built in our throats. "We and our cousin aren't swearing jack shit."

"But whyever not?" Umérth asked, not seeming to realise how much danger he was in. "You and your cousin are heroes of the Varden! It would be such an embarrassment if you did not endorse our decision."

"For you, not for us." Driscol noted.

"Ajihad accepted us as an ally, an equal." Sparta said. "Would you dishonour the dead by making us swear fealty?"

We could almost see Islingr grin. "Clever move."

Umérth spluttered, but the rest of the council sat in silence.

"So we give you two decisions." Kevin said. "Option one: we don't swear fealty, and we continue to fight alongside the Varden as we have been doing, and nobody will be told about this meeting. Option two: we leave the Varden with Eragon, Saphira and Amara, and take the fight to Galbatorix by ourselves. We will also make it known that it was your stupidity that made it happen."

"Option three:" Sparta added. "We kill you all."

"Dude, where the hell did that come from!?" Driscol yelped, giving Sparta a shocked look.

"I'm just saying it's a viable option." Sparta pointed out. "They're threatening Eragon. As his protector, that gives us the right to neutralise the threat, by any means necessary."

"Jeez, I'd rather go with option one." Kevin said. "Two is going to be a pain in the ass, and three just makes a mess."

The five members of the council gulped, and unanimously decided to go with option one. Jarsha was summoned, and was quickly sent scampering off to fetch Arya and Nasuada. Amara was still asleep. Grinning smugly, we sat down again, Eragon and Saphira staring at us.

"Don't do what we just did." Driscol told them. "They now like you a whole lot more than us. Still, try to find a loophole."

As soon as Arya walked in, we filled her in on the details. She frowned slightly, and asked us why we hadn't demanded that Eragon be released from his vow to swear fealty. We replied that it raised the council's opinion of Eragon, despite decreasing ours. She accepted our logic, but still wasn't happy with the situation. Still, us being a dragon had the benefit that she would yell at Eragon, not us.

Nasuada was a damn good actress. She looked shy, naive, and vulnerable. Not at all like how we knew she really was. She accepted the position, accepted the flattery and toadying, and then asked to be left alone with Eragon, Saphira, and us.

As soon as the door closed, we groaned. "Thank God that bullshit's over."

Nasuada laughed softly. "Indeed, Golden Guardian, indeed."

"Pompous assholes." Sparta said. "Trying to make us swear fealty… they're lucky we didn't blast them into oblivion."

"I feel sorry for Jörmundur." Kevin said. "He's trapped in the middle of four idiots."

"He is a wolf in their midst." Saphira agreed.

Turning to Eragon, Nasuada said "So we meet again, Rider. You haven't greeted me. Have I offended you?"

Eragon shook his head. "No, Nasuada; I was reluctant to speak for fear of being rude or foolish. Certain circumstances are unkind to hasty statements."

As he realised that we might be eavesdropped upon, he cast a spell upon the room, explaining that it would prevent people hearing us.

"Thank you, Eragon. You don't know how much of a gift that is." Nasuada sighed.

Eragon nodded, and Saphira said "I grieve for you and your loss. Your strength must become the Varden's when you assume your father's mantle. He was a great man, and his final words were that he loved you with all his heart."

"Ajihad was a great man." Eragon added. "His name will always be remembered. But you should also know that before he passed, he charged- no, commanded Saphira and I to prevent the Varden from falling into chaos. I saw going to keep them a secret because of the implications, but you have a right to know. I'm not entirely sure what Ajihad meant or wanted, but I will always defend the Varden with my powers. I just wanted you to understand that, and that I've no desire to usurp the Varden's leadership."

"Ah, but it isn't supposed to be my leadership, is it?" Nasuada laughed. "I know what the council was trying to do, and why you are here before me. Do you think that in all the years that I have served my father, we never planned for this eventuality? I expected the council to do exactly what it did, and now everything is in place for me to take command of the Varden."

"You have no intention of letting them rule you." Eragon said, his jaw dropping open.

Nasuada nodded.

"Well, we'd say that you have the council fooled." Driscol said. "You're a good actress, Nasuada."

"Thank you, Ghidorah. However, I want all of you to know this: my father's work will not go unfinished, even if it takes me to the grave. All of his plans, strategies and goals, they are mine now. I will not fail him by being weak. The Empire will be brought down, Galbatorix will be dethroned, and the rightful government will be raised."

"And what of us, Nasuada?" Eragon asked. "What should Saphira and I do in the Varden? Ghidorah and Amara, too?"

"You can do whatever you wish." Nasuada said, locking eyes with all of us in turn. "The council are fools if they think they can control you. You are heroes to the Varden, the dwarves, and even the elves when they hear about it. If you five go against the council or me, we will be forced to yield, for the people support you wholeheartedly. However, if you accept my leadership, I will continue the path my father laid. You and Saphira shall go with Arya to the elves, be instructed there, and then return to the Varden."

"And what about us and Amara?" Kevin asked. "Our duty is to protect Eragon and Saphira, so we have to go to the elves with them. However, Amara is here under her own free will. She'll want to come too."

Nasuada considered the matter. "It would be a little demoralising for the Varden for you all to leave, but I understand that you are bound by duty, and your… cousin, isn't she?"

"Yes. She's… the only family by blood we have left."

"Then I have no objections, as long as the three Knights remain with us. Will they be agreeable to that?"

We chuckled. "They're machines. They take orders, and they don't think for themselves. They do whatever we tell them."

"Then are you agreeable to leave them here?" Nasuada asked.

"Sure. That was our plan anyway."

Eragon got up, drew Zar'roc, and walked over to Nasuada, holding his sword flat in his hands. Then he knelt and held up the sword.

"Nasuada, Saphira and I have been here for only a short while. But in that time, we came to respect Ajihad, and now, in turn, you. You fought under Farthen Dûr when others fled-"

"Technically, it was a tactical retreat."

Eragon ignored us. "-including the two women of the council, and have treated us openly instead of with deception. Therefore, I offer you my blade… and fealty as a Rider."

Surprise flickered over Nasuada's face. She grabbed Zar'roc by the hilt and lifted it to her face, staring at the crimson blade.

"I accept your fealty with great honour, Rider, as you accept all the responsibilities accompanying the station. Rise as my vassal and take your sword."

Snapshot #14:

He hadn't meant to rampage through the realms like he had. He hadn't meant to allow Shadows to destabilise them. He'd just panicked when he'd found the truth. He was the first Plainswalker apart from the Rifthearts and the Elders to find out about Rift and Void. The first Plainswalker apart from them to realise the true scope of what they were fighting. How could they stand to one of the creators of the multiverse?

And so, he stole a load of keys and tried to run through the realms. It was cowardly, but there was no alternative in his mind. He couldn't think of any way to confront the problem, so he'd tried to escape them.

Sure, he had eventually been caught, as he had the form of Jörmungandr, the Midgard Serpent. The great beast that his grandmother had told him of as she put him to bed in his father's hall when he was still a child, back when the Vikings still roamed the seas.

The other Plainswalkers couldn't subdue someone that could surround an entire realm for long. And so he had escaped, blindly slithering through the rift, through random realm after random realm, hoping for salvation. He only had his original key, leading from Locostral to whatever realm he used to patrol. And yet, he couldn't use that to guide him, as he was on the run. Going back to either of those realms would be suicide. He could only open portals into the Rift with it, and he had no control over where his destination would be. He could only pray to the gods to spare him.

And so he had himself in a world that it's natives called Aqua Magna. He had hid in its oceans for centuries, the guilt of causing the Shadows to assimilate fifteen universes weighing down on him for all that time. He had wanted to die, but then he would never be redeemed. He would never truly see Valhalla. Locostral had been a good afterlife, but he still yearned for Odin's great Hall of the Slain. The never-ending battle, and the preparation to fight at Ragnarök alongside his Gods. That was what he wanted.

And yet, he would never be able to. As soon as his former comrades saw him, they would attack. Locostral had always been ahead of its time, at least to Earth's perspective. And they had weapons of devastating power, some of magic, and some of steel. He would be destroyed.

He vaguely wondered about his clanmates from time to time. Would they forgive him for his actions? It was so long since he'd last seen them that he had forgotten their names. Helheim, he could barely remember his own name! Something starting with a 'S', perhaps? It didn't matter. All that mattered now was hiding. Staying away from anyone or anything he could hurt. Although if the realms needed him, he would do his best to protect them as he did so long ago.