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It felt like he’d been floating in the nameless void forever, a place so still yet so comforting that he hadn’t thought to fight it. Everything about it calmed the worst of his still foggy memories of how he’d come to be there, his mind set adrift in what looked like swirling mist that obscured anything that might be perceived from a distance. The only reason he was acknowledging this at all was because something beyond his perception had finally shifted, signaling the end of his restful hiatus, or whatever this place was. A break in the fog got him turning toward it, blinking against the brilliance lest it blind him somehow, coming back to reality with a flash and a stuttering gasp. Being out of his gem for the first time in he didn’t know how long was exhilarating, even if it was greatly disorienting. Almost at once his boots landed on a hard floor, wood from the sound of it, knees giving way almost at once as he stared at the dark boards under his feet and one gloved hand braced against it.

Wait, this isn’t right. He thought, mind spinning as the past and present tried to clash powerfully in his head, the peaceful void no longer acting as a barrier against the turmoil of his last moments of consciousness.

Fire… screaming in the distance… running… have to get there in time, I have to--.

Eragon groaned as he refused to let the memory finish, raising a hand to rub at his eyes even when he felt nothing like pain or discomfort anywhere. He could only imagine he'd been out so long that any injuries he’d sustained had long since mended themselves. Pulling his gloved hand away to look at it, Eragon felt brief relief to see his gem wasn’t cracked like he’d originally feared after going into his unplanned stasis. The deep blue stone, circular with a triangular facet in the middle, separating them to come off as different shades in what he had to believe was sunlight as the crystal rock shimmered in the palm of his right hand. Like his gem, Eragon’s clothes were a deep blue, mostly a deep cobalt to account for his gem’s coloring and his mastery of ice and water. A Sapphire like him was hardly made for combat but Eragon as he’d come to call himself in the war found it was far better than standing around acting important like the countless elites he’d once wasted his time with. His attire, like his gem, was as he’d last designated for himself: gloves that covered his index and middle fingers of dark azure to account for his skill in archery while his tunic held in place at the waist with a loosely tied belt were both more of a cadmium blue, his trousers set in navy while his boots had settled on the azure same as his gloves. Almost in contrast to such deep colors, his bracers and greaves covering his limbs to the elbow and the knee respectively were a lighter blue and without the damage he vaguely recalled gaining what felt like hours ago. Matching other Sapphires that exist, or still might, Eragon's complexion was only a slightly lighter shade than his tunic while his hair in all its short and slightly curled glory was an icy shade of white. He flexed his hand experimentally, wondering if his bow would come to him like it always did but didn’t dare in case he was still weak somehow.

Another thought went to the short sword he recalled a Bismuth had made for him but as it wasn’t with him, he could only imagine it’d become lost when he’d been poofed. Ranged fighting was his forte but getting close and dirty hadn’t bothered him when it mattered. Speaking of… where am I? The thought got him to finally look up and around to find he was in some kind of dwelling, open and airy as several different sections were exposed, with no walls and there were a number of windows plus a door within his view. Curiously, there was even a skylight in the ceiling, or was it the roof? All he knew was the sun was coming in, bright and warm in a way that felt half-forgotten. Like the floor, the walls and ceiling appeared to be made of wooden planks and beams, causing Eragon to turn and see there was a warp pad on a stone dais behind him, leading to a door with a star symbol on it.

Wait, I know that symbol! He thought excitedly, knowing the emblem of his faction, his cause anywhere. Why it had several gems on it, he didn’t understand but knew he had to be in some kind of base or temple if both were there. A noise made Eragon whip back around, getting to his feet at last even if his balance almost had him stumbling, boots scuffling loudly on the floor as he found himself face to face with what looked like a girl.

Not just any girl, mind. But as he recalled with some amount of ease Eragon knew she was a human, her skin as dark as dirt, ebony tresses flowing from her head and brown eyes that were shockingly gentle in her regard of him. One would think seeing a magical warrior appear from thin air would have at least shocked her! So thrown by this new development, not to mention he stood over her by at least a few inches, the girl seemed to beam at him in what felt like sudden excitement. “It worked!”

Uh… what? Eragon had to stare at this young mortal as if she’d suddenly spouted some riddle for that was exactly what she’d done, suddenly glad they were standing at least a few feet away from each other as the human girl started to do some kind of dance. It was strange, yet flowing and clearly to some kind of music in her head in her evident joy, her laughter musical as it bounced off the walls. “It worked, I did it!” she crowed, twirling so the ruby red dress she was wearing created a pretty picture as the deep fabric folded and shifted with her happy motions, shoes tapping on the wooden floor. “The others aren’t going to believe this!”

Wait, others?! Though he’d not said a word, Eragon still felt panic rise in his chest at the idea of meeting new people after just half a minute of returning to existence. As he had no idea what year it was, let alone the century or millennium, the war he felt he’d just been in the midst of fighting could’ve ended ages ago with Homeworld as the victors, and him a lone rebel on the run. Or, the others had managed to succeed in his absence and those bound to appear were some of his allies granted not too much had changed. He had so many questions and wanted to ask as many as the girl could answer, but he didn’t get the chance as the door far ahead of him opened so several people deep in conversation could walk in.

He knew several of them right off: Roran, a muscular and reddish Tiger’s Eye who had often wielded his war hammer with deadly efficiency if only matched by Orik, an earthy brown Agate who enjoyed rushing head-on into enemy forces with his axe a bit too much. Ever with them was the kind Katrina, elegant and stunning right along with her golden yellow Topaz, only ever outdone but Oromis who was a more powerful Sugilite who for some reason appeared to be absent. Also absent was the knowledgeable if rebellious Trianna, a deep purple Amethyst who rarely cared much of what anyone thought but had followed orders well enough, as was Jeod the brown-tinged Peridot, always writing or with his nose in a book. To see the small group that was there, so obviously alive if in strange clothing, had Eragon frozen in place to the point he was ignoring the human girl no longer dancing on the open floor in favor of practically gaping at the newcomers. An irony not lost on him, Orik noticed him first for the short man with his flowing beard seemed to pause as if jerked by a punch to the face, hazel eyes blinking as he took in Eragon’s very obvious presence. The others must’ve noticed for they followed suit, causing the large space to fall into silence as the different gems stared at one another. Silence reigned until Katrina's almost heartbroken voice filled it with unnatural hesitance. “E-Eragon?”

Relief, joy and confusion blended together until the heavy weight lifted in favor of liberation as far down as his soul got Eragon to respond, voice cracking as he fought down the tears he desperately didn’t want to cry at the moment. Even though his last memories were still a bit foggy, seeing such familiar faces was still a sign of fortune as he muttered aloud. “You all… is it really…?”

The simple if almost broken response was enough to get Roran moving, the man made up of banded orange, beige and red practically marching the several yards toward him, enclosing the blue-clad archer in a powerful hug. His first in maybe a few hundred, if not thousand years, Eragon didn’t fight the embrace as he clapped his hands against the larger man’s back with the beginnings of a choked sob. His last moments of consciousness were still so confusing right along with the new reality he seemed to be in, making Roran’s bold if slightly awkward reaction all the more welcoming. Before long the others were crowding in, offering words of welcome, kind touches and a back-breaking hug from Orik in the short man’s enthusiasm. Eventually Katrina voiced the words that were probably on everyone’s minds, as she was prone to do. “By the stars, we were so worried about you! Where have you been?”

Good question, he mused to himself, as the answer was lost on him but since they might know more than him, Eragon made no effort to lie about it. “To be honest… I don’t know. The last thing I recall was a battle… I was doing… something. It was important but I obviously got hurt somehow. The next thing that comes to mind is waking up here, to this… girl.” He said, waving at the dark-skinned mortal watching them all with curious eyes, incredibly confused about her presence and obvious comfort with being around gems. “Who is she?”

In response, the girl in question jerked as if slapped, putting another of her kindly smiles on her face as she answered before the gems could. “Hi, I’m sorry I didn’t introduce myself. I’m Nasuada and this is my house.”

Glancing around, the design of the structure he was in made more sense now that it had ‘house’ as a reasonable label, though why anyone would live so close to a warp pad when just about anything could come out of it escaped him. “R-right.” He managed after a moment, tensing up as a new thought came to mind, causing the Sapphire to glance between his friends in growing desperation. “Wait, if you guys are here, where’s Onyx?”

The mood of the room dropped like a stone as Eragon watched his friends falter at his question, and dare he say that Roran actually cringed. The Tiger’s Eye knew better than most how loyal Eragon was to Onyx even in the early days of the rebellion. As if to sink things even further, Nasuada’s voice got him turning to face her only to find her expression had taken on sad edges. “Hello again… I’m Onyx’s daughter. She gave up her form so I could exist.”

Stunned by this revelation, Eragon could tell the rest of the gems were wary of his reaction as he stared at this mortal with wide eyes. So many things passed through his head, from furious rants concerning abandonment to pleading denials, all clashing together like waves in a storm. It felt like forever before they calmed, as this mortal girl was obviously not lying and his own friends had made no effort to refute her claim. For a second time, he had to fight against the tears threatening to fall as the truth sunk in. “T-then she’s… gone?”

“She is, and I have none of her memories.” Nasuada confirmed, pulling at the scoop collar of her dress to reveal the perfectly oval stone of pure black onyx with only the thinnest line of white acting as its border with one or two streaking through the polished ebony. Just like Black Onyx, it was right where her heart would otherwise be, solidifying the truth of it all the deeper into his mind. Eragon would have to be blind to now know his leader’s gem when he saw it, or deaf upon hearing the girl’s soft whisper. “I’m sorry.”

Again silence ruled where once more, no one made to deny the girl’s words or even come up with an excuse. As they were giving him the truth, he chose to give it right back as he stumbled over his own tongue. “I… I don’t know what to say. This… I had no idea this sort of thing was even possible!” he exclaimed quietly to himself, running a hand through his messy hair to look again to his friends. “What about the war? Black Diamond? His army?”

The weight of Katrina's hand on his shoulder got him to turn to her, trying his best to understand the pain in her amber eyes as she spoke quietly to him. “Why don’t we show you instead?”

Eragon frowned but didn’t argue as they all gathered on the warp pad feet away, blinking a little as the stone pedestal’s magic shined brilliantly as it transported him untold miles away to a disturbingly familiar field overrun with shrubs and grasses. The sight of rocky hills, abandoned weapons of varying types and sizes strewn about in varying stages of neglect, some simply covered in greenery that they were just odd shapes sticking out of the ground. In a flash, Eragon saw the field as he last knew it, cast in darkness with magical fire burning in patches all over with enough heat to blind and smoke to block out the stars. The memory of running toward… something or someone was vivid, as they or it depended on his help. What it had been was lost at the moment, just as he stood frozen yet again at seeing something he was having trouble taking in that readily. Stepping cautiously off the pad and onto the dirt, grass crunching under his light steps, Eragon found his voice didn’t want to work. “N-no… I was just… we were just here! We were here! Fighting and then--.”

He stopped himself, he had to stop himself from thinking about that day and his still hazy memories of what had occurred if to make his head stop hurting. He had no idea why but just trying to recall his last day of consciousness sent a stabbing pain between his temples he couldn’t explain, relieved of suffering through it by Roran’s calm if oddly morose tone. “We won, but at the cost of a great number of our forces. Onyx knew it had to be done or none of us would’ve survived. For the past few thousand years, we thought you were captured or shattered at the hands of Black Diamond. Now that you’re here, we know that’s not true.”

“Who’s gone then?” the Sapphire archer demanded as he spun to face one of his best friends in all the galaxy, watching the older gem’s face for the truths he needed but feared at the same time. “Oromis? Jeod? Brom? Trianna?” he demanded, listing the names to see how the Tiger’s Eye reacted. Each time the man’s frown seemed to deepen, making his last utterance that of a desperate man. “Arya?”

To his growing dismay, Roran only shook his head woefully. “All gone.” He confirmed, to Eragon’s deepening shock. “I’m so sorry, my friend.”

No, no that can’t be right. Isn’t it? To know so many of them were no longer present weighed heavily on the Sapphire but knew that losses had been expected from the start. He’d simply hoped none of them would be some of his closest friends and de facto leaders in their rebellion. Information that led to a new question. “So that’s it… the war’s over?”

“Homeworld is still sending troops now and again to probe this world, to see if we’re as gone as they think we are, to test if they can still use it for their own gains. We’re cut off from them through the warp pads but they have ships so we’re on constant alert for their appearances. The last few groups have shown that even now, Homeworld is in disarray after Black Diamond’s fall and the elite are quarreling among themselves over who has leadership.” Roran explained, the much larger warrior giving him a stern look that told the Sapphire he meant business. Then again, Roran had been an odd source of wisdom and in more than just battle, so he knew that he had to listen to the older gem’s words. More so when the gem laid a kind hand on his shoulder, drawing the Sapphire out of his thoughts to find Roran was giving him a meaningful stare that spoke volumes. “Eragon, as one of our oldest original members, we could use your help more than ever.”

Small, stealth group work? Hm, much better than the near hordes of gems that often didn’t like to work with each other. Eragon thought to himself, certain he would have to relearn how his friends fought if their tactics had changed at all. Not to mention Nasuada's probably going to need some hands-on work to match her maker’s skill. It would take a great deal of time and would help him acclimate to this new era, this new version of the world, of Earth. At least doing something would help him get past the pain of knowing he’d been asleep for so long, had missed so much. The idea that he was literally a gem fresh from his exit hole was daunting but if had hardly stopped him from following Black Onyx in the first place. Finally, the Sapphire nodded tiredly. “I’ll try but… everything’s so different! I’ll need to check on my training hall, see if it’s still intact.”

“Sorry, training hall?” Nasuada chimed in from where she’d come to stand nearby, glancing between the two gems curiously.

Baffled, the Sapphire archer looked back at Roran who was oddly not looking at him as he muttered aloud. “We haven’t really been back there since your… disappearance.”

Eragon understood this, certain his friends had been lost without his gem to protect them against the traps and other mechanisms not designed to be under their control. It had been something of his sanctum all those millennia ago so from what Roran had said, they all had done their best to respectively leave his things alone. The idea his friends might be a little scared of heading into the one place they all should’ve been able to go without fear drew a laugh from him at last. “Then I guess I’d better make sure nothing’s broken.”

When back on the warp pad, Eragon took control and had to smile when the familiar sight of the dark cliffs greeted his eyes. It felt like he’d only been there yesterday even if the idea it had been thousands of years stung a little. He had to smirk in amusement when Nasuada’s eager curiosity almost had her shouting. “Wow, this is cool! You live out here?”

“I’m hardly an Earth gem but I made do.” Eragon returned easily, finding that this new gem’s open curiosity amused him, waving for her to follow as he stepped toward the nearest path leading up the hill. “This way.”

Hopping off the pad and after him, Nasuada fell into stride with him as they ascended the incline, appearing unperturbed that it led to a path along the canyon wall. “The others always talked about you like you were the most amazing gem! Did you really train everyone to fight?”

Of course they told her stories. Knowing Orik they’re probably convoluted as the stars themselves. He thought, managing a smirk for the girl’s sake. “I wouldn’t say amazing but I have moderate skills.”

From behind them, Roran was giving a rumbling chuckle and Eragon could hear the gem smiling smugly. “He means he’s downplaying his own talent to try and appear modest. Never works though.”

“Only because you keep ratting me out Roran, you always have.” Eragon deadpanned but found he was smiling anyway.

“Ooh, there’s a story there!” Nasuada cheered.

“There is: Roran and I have known each other for, well… ever, I guess. We actually met through your mother, Black Onyx. Without her, we wouldn’t be the Varden.”

“So those other gems you mentioned… they were your friends too?”

“Yeah, they were.” The Sapphire returned quietly, glad the human girl showed no intent to press further. For one so young, she seemed to have a strong grip on tact. It was another few minutes before he spoke up again, mainly about a section of the path that gave the slightest grumble at being tread on. More from instinct than actual thought, Eragon reached to pull the younger gem closer to him and away from the edge, frowning when a small bit of dirt broke away to fall out of sight. “Careful, it looks like the dirt here isn’t as sturdy as it used to be.”

Nasuada nodded dutifully and allowed his touch and guidance away from the path’s edge, neither of them missing Orik inspecting the weakening section as they moved on. Possibly to fill the silence, Nasuada found a new question to voice. “Now that you’re here, does this mean you’re my new teacher?”

Eragon jolted, as he’d assumed by then that the others would profess their intent to remain her teacher but since no one was protesting her question, he had to think that they meant to have him take up the role all along. So not to leave the girl with the wrong impression, the Sapphire made himself nod. “If you want. After so long, I’ll need to see how everyone fights to properly assess if I need to stick with my old regimens or come up with new ones. But with you though, I don’t think I’ve had to deal with such a new pupil in… ages.”

That last part was true, as in the old days it was Onyx and Roran who did the recruiting, while Eragon oversaw drills, training and strategy. Katrina and Trianna had overseen those who were more passive in their efforts while Orik helped out where he was able. Without Brom and Oromis the warrior in blue knew he had his work cut out for him. Nasuada looked ready to comment on then when something ahead caught her eye. “Whoa!” she cried, darting forward before he could stop her. Eragon almost sputtered in horror when the human girl took the corners a bit too quickly as she ran ahead the last thirty yards to their obvious destination. Being of his own make and design, Eragon’s door was large and was visible from the rock face if one was looking at it from the right angles. And since he’d once catered to all kinds of gems, it was tall enough for even the tallest Jasper to stroll through. Coming to stand in front of it with a slack face, Nasuada appeared almost tiny before the massive barrier. “That’s a big door!”

“It never hurts to account for the size of your students… even Orik.” Eragon commented dryly, inwardly glad nothing had happened in the girl’s haste. He would have to remember later on that for one so young and small, she was in fact quite swift on her feet.

Behind them, Orik was sputtering indignantly. “Oi!”

Katrina snickered while Roran merely shook his head, all of them ignoring the stocky warrior’s irritation as the Tiger’s Eye gave his friend a jovial look. “Just get the door open, you insufferable clod.”

For the first time, Eragon grinned. Despite his often shy nature, he was hardly above showing off when it suited him. It was far better than playing the handsome puppet for the elites back on Homeworld to gape and fawn over. Raising his hand, he bid his gem glow with the magic inside to connect with the power laid in the stone door before them. The door, a large circle with a triangle in its middle same as his gem, retracted into the dirt with a heavy grating of rock on rock until a shadow-filled corridor was revealed. In response to the door’s opening, torches made out of glass Eragon had made himself glowed brightly to fill the several hundred yard long space with gentle blue light. Also revealed in the light were his armor sets and weapon racks, the many blades gleaming as the armors stood like silent guards. As he’d come to expect at this point, Nasuada was letting out an excited cry as she jogged over to the nearest weapon set some feet away, a set of halberds of differing styles looking intimidating even when motionless in their innocuous display of steel. It made Eragon wish she’d gone to look at the spears just opposite the pole weapons instead. The worst those would do was bruise if they happened to fall over when disturbed. “Wow! Are all these… gem weapons?!”

Eragon chuckled at her enthusiasm all the same, glad she was taking no effort to actually touch them. They were too tall for one so small and obviously was not a master at her own weapon yet. “I’m hardly a Bismuth but I’ve learned a thing or two about valuing weapons, no matter their size, style and purpose. Training you will be rather easy if you can summon her sword since you have her gem obviously.”

“I can! But we don’t know what happened to her shield though.” Nasuada commented as she jogged to catch up with him and the other gems as they moved to walk deeper into the hall, her dark eyes darting as she tried to take in everything at once.

The Sapphire tried not to wince at this news, as such a valuable piece of equipment was best not left lying around where some human could find it. This just as easily made him think of his sword and what had become of it during his slumber. “That is a sad piece of information but if the Homeworld gems didn’t take it, then it’s probably stashed away somewhere. I doubt it’s back in that field, not when everyone else has had time to forage around.”

“We looked but we didn’t find it, so we think she hid it someplace secret.” Roran chipped in from the back, causing Eragon to nod. If Onyx hadn’t lost it in their past battles, then she must have stashed it in one of her various sanctuaries she’d been careful not to tell them about.

Nasuada glanced between them, baffled. “Like in my cat?”

Stopping to avoid tripping over his boots, Eragon turned to the young girl with a confused look on his face. “Your… what?”

“Oh, he’s where I found you! In my cat’s pelt.” She told him plainly, what little time he’d spent with her already showing that she wasn’t lying. Then again, he’d only seen her when he’d woken up, causing him to take her story with a grain of salt.

Baffled, Eragon turned to the group of gems to find none of them were all that surprised by the statement which meant this information was hardly new. Looking back at Nasuada, he did his best to keep his face a calm mask so to avoid appearing too dubious of what he was hearing from the girl. “I’d have to see it to believe that.”

“I can show you later, if you want.” The girl offered, again showing no sign of guile.

“It will be an interesting experience, I’m sure.” Eragon responded after a moment for lack of anything else to say to her. It was better than saying he didn’t believe her and somehow end up becoming the villain as a result. The sight of a slightly smaller door similar to the entrance caught his attention, eager to see how its contents fared. “Ah, here we go.”

The door didn’t need his gem to open, as he’d made the inner doors to open whenever the stones by the entrance were stepped on but he could still lock them if he wanted. Same as the corridor, the large room beyond lit up to show the furniture at their end and the docile people-shaped targets on the far side were still intact. Next to him, Nasuada was once again taking the space in with a note of awe. “A targeting range?”

So they didn’t tell her. Eragon surmised quickly, allowing another smirk to tilt his lips as he stepped forward. “Allow me.”

Stepping forward and past a bench to the neat line carved into the stone floor, Eragon felt the same exhilaration that came from summoning his composite bow into his hand. Along with it, he called five arrows as well, all as blue as his gem and stronger than anything another race could make. The sight of his weapons had the human girl cry in her delight, though Katrina was wisely holding the girl’s shoulders so she wouldn’t get in the way somehow. He fired them in quick succession at the stone targets standing so far away, the bolts bursting apart into icy shards, sending deadly debris and spears all over the place. Behind him, Nasuada was clapping in her evident glee. “Wow, you’re an archer? I’ve never seen any of the others do that!”

“Not all gems like to get into their opponent’s faces but when they get into mine, I used to have a sword but after what happened….” He trailed off as he let his bow disappear, not liking the idea of his other weapon being potentially missing. While it had not been his original weapon, the Bismuth he’d gotten it from had been kind in understanding his want to take on as many as possible without relying just on his bow for protection. Because they were masters at it, both Onyx and Arya had taught him how to use it, to great effect in the centuries that followed.

Eragon was distracted from his increasingly dark thoughts when Orik stepped forward to place a kind hand on his arm, the stocky Agate gentle in his regard. “We can always go back and find it. Especially now when we know we should try and look for it.”

The Sapphire nodded, appeased by this idea. “Thanks, I’d like that.”

Orik nodded back, the group leaving collectively just for Nasuada to notice another door further down the hall. “What’s in here?” she asked, at least waiting until Eragon moved ahead of her this time before following after him. For a third time, the lights coming to life revealed a large room but very different than where they’d already been: Eragon’s sanctum sanctorum was exactly how he’d left it, though a bit dusty from his absence. Bookshelves taking up a corner near his desk, a set of chairs and a settee situated before a hearth filled with sparkling white crystals and a banner or two with the Varden’s star emblazoned on the rich fabric. But what seemed to draw Nasuada’s attention was the corner Eragon had used for more creative pursuits, and where a rectangular stone bas-relief had sat abandoned under the protective tarp he’d hastily thrown over it when he’d been called out at the time. Pulling at the fabric, the large sheet fell away to reveal the carving and its figures. Eragon didn’t miss how everyone went still even before Nasuada muttered what they were probably thinking. “Ooh, this is… beautiful.”

He chose to remain silent for a minute to admire his work: Black Onyx in all her matronly glory with her loyal warriors flanking her sides in their respective colors deftly painted onto the plain rock as finding any stones similar had felt tedious and might take away some of the grandeur of the image. He’d been working on the finer details when he’d been called away so long ago, giving Eragon’s voice a sad edge as he finally commented. “After all this time, I’m a little surprised it’s still in one piece. I meant to move it to the temple ages ago when it was finished but sadly, missions kept getting in the way.”

Without looking away from the sculpture, he could feel his friends staring at him, Nasuada sounding shocked as she muttered. “You made this for the temple?”

Eragon nodded sagely, meeting the young girl’s eyes. “I did. Your mother loved it when she saw it too.”

“It is a good likeness, Eragon. We can talk about moving it later. We should head back to the temple for now, come back when we have more time.” Katrina said, her suggestion taking the archer off guard for he frowned at the Topaz.

“Has something happened?”

“No but something will.” the golden-yellow gem told him with a laugh, the blush rising on Nasuada’s face not lost on Eragon when Katrina pointed at her. “Nasuada requires food and sleep, something none of us need but as she’s half human it’s something we try to account for.”

Idiot! He berated himself at once, having completely forgotten that not only was this young human mortal, but had needs that until then hadn’t truly registered. Eragon was sure his face was burning a little as he nodded back. “Ah, yes. Apologies, my lady.”

The human girl waved away his formality with a smile. “Just Nasuada, or Nas is fine. I’m sure you noticed my name’s a bit of a mouthful.”

Stepping forward to take up the tarp from the floor, the Sapphire nodded at this logic as he filed away the nickname for later. “The vowels are odd but it has a nice flow to it. Everyone thought my name was strange when I came up with it.”

“You named yourself?”

Eragon chuckled, the sheet fluttering into the air with a twist of his arms, covering his relief once more. He could always come back later and finish it at last when the others didn’t have need of him. “Aye, I did. We all did, actually. We took some of the vowels we liked and just put them together. Far easier than ‘Sapphire’ or ‘Tiger’ all the time. Particularly when there’s more than one of such gems roaming around. I’m certainly not about to call out someone’s number.”

Nasuada made a face as they all made for the door, again leaving as a unit to head out back to the warp pad. “I’ve heard one or two before, they sound more like a weird code than actual names.”

“That is true and it’s very impersonal. Onyx… wanted us to be more than just gems who copied others from the same groups. She wanted us to be our own people, as best we could. She was… noble that way.”

“Well yours sounds fine. Humans have plenty of names, for boys and girls or both. I can’t wait to introduce you to my dad!”

The Sapphire glanced at the young human, puzzled by the new word, trying it out as best he could. “Da-ad?”

Next to him, his liege lord reborn nodded easily, having probably handled such confusion before. “He’s the one who helped my mom make me… however they made me. He’s also why I need food, sleep, and clothing. Mortal stuff, you know?”

“That does explain much.”

“I’m so excited I could scream! The town’s gonna love you!”

Eragon almost tripped then, feeling a chill come over him. For all his confidence, he had never done well with crowds but could only imagine what this new word meant. “Town?”

To his dismay, Nasuada was no longer listening, the young human already babbling on and on about a variety of people who were no doubt other mortals. A lot of it went over his head and it was a wonder he could keep up with most of it, making Eragon deeply regret not running away from this obviously very unusual girl when he’d had the chance.

----

The next few days turned out to be an interesting, if understandably confusing experience with Nasuada acting as his dauntless guide. As it turned out, a settlement of humans they called ‘Teirm’ had situated itself next to the hill and its cliff top blocking the temple’s entrance from view with the beach and the sea creating an almost peninsula from the present sand and earth. At seeing Nasuada's house from the outside helped give its placement more sense, its design rather tasteful even when sitting alone against a cliff face carved out into the shape of a gem female of still impressive size and intricate detail. It was exactly like last Eragon had been there, sans the house and the town full of humans, and at least one hand on the statue had fallen off while another was gone above the elbow. From all the weathering, moss and other damage, the years clearly hadn’t been kind in his absence. Add that Nasuada was by default a member of the Varden, it made sense to create a space for her and her unique needs rather than having the temple’s cave exposed for anyone to walk into. It was clear his fellow gems went out of their way to not only care and train the girl, but appease her younger mind with her often simpler interests. Exactly as Eragon was coming to realize, Nasuada wasn’t Black Onyx, and there was no getting their former leader back. Meeting her ‘cat’ turned out to an adventure all its own as the beast wasn’t the small creature he’d been ready to assume it was. Instead it was a large black cat of clear predatory size and evolutionary design with eyes of yellow-gold that seemed to stare down to the soul. Having seen beasts just as big, if not bigger, in scattered parts of the galaxy, Eragon tried not to wonder how many times the other gems had nearly killed the thing by accident before realizing it was magic. For the beast to stare at him so impassively upon first seeing it in the girl’s room just fortified the notion that Nasuada was its master, and merely tolerated everyone else. As proof of this, Eragon had watched in unfiltered shock as Nasuada somehow vanished into the large animal’s pelt only to come back with an old battle flag he’d once thought had been destroyed. He’d been quiet when she gave it to him to hold and gave no protest when Eragon turned away to sit on the warp pad to clutch the worn pole in silence lest it vanish on him. When he’d tried to give it back later on, Nasuada shocked him again by bidding he keep it and if he was feeling up to it, tell her stories sometime. Weak in the face of such generosity he agreed, certain he was smiling like an idiot when he did.

On a lighter note, everyone was collectively pleased to have him back, and Nasuada seemed determined to be his guide for everything. Just as she’d already told him, humans were not only varied in gender and their names, but in their colors: it turned out that Nasuada’s father was as dark-skinned as her, Ajihad proving as kind as his daughter from behind the counter of something called a ‘record store’. While he had no real understanding of the formats available, Eragon did understand that the strange disks and devices held music of nearly all kinds. Nasuada even gifted him with a thin and compact device meant to hold thousands of ‘tracks’ at a time, which he could have changed if he asked for her help on how to do it. He nearly dropped it into a puddle when something called ‘heavy metal’ filled his ears through the ‘headphones’, causing the human girl to laugh at him for it. She’d taken pity on him though and showed him how to sort through the songs by style rather than whatever random one the device chose. After a while, Eragon was eventually sitting on one of the benches along the boardwalk enjoying a piano piece called a ‘nocturne’, gazing out at the ocean while Nasuada ate something called ‘donuts’. As it turned out, Eragon held no distaste toward eating when she offered him one, the ring of sweet bread covered in something called ‘chocolate’ which he’d taken delight in fairly quickly. While he had no hunger or even a want for food, the Sapphire archer found that if other foods tasted just as good that he would gladly indulge.

Coming face-to-face with Nasuada’s ‘television’ had been a startling thing, as Eragon momentarily feared the large, flat thing was in fact possessed by a gem when the human girl first turned it on. At least as the only person there, Nasuada's laughter was kind. “It’s okay, it’s not going to hurt anyone. Unless it falls over because it got knocked down but still.”

While appeased by her calm aura, Eragon still gazed at the device and its moving screen skeptically, wondering why the male present on it had fallen silent even as his mouth kept on moving. There was even an odd symbol in the corner at the same moment the sound had cut off and the girl had pressed something on the odd black thing in her hand. “Are you sure?”

“Yes, it’s a human invention. We use them all the time.” she assured him again, the way she smiled helping ease away more of his concerns.

Still, Eragon wasn’t about to accept such a simple description so easily. “It is… a communication device?”

Nasuada made a face then, impressing Eragon with her ability to find words they could both understand a moment later. “Sort of. Beacons transmit sounds and images on specific ‘channels’ based on what they have available for viewing and contracted to show to people. Depending upon the service you like, you get a wide variety of channels with all kinds of shows you can watch almost all the time when you have some to spare. There are some that are just music but they just loop the same songs over and over for hours before even switching to a new section of their playlist.”

Eragon nodded from where he sat on the floor, having allowed the girl to sit on the bed near where the device was situated, curious to know more about this odd innovation. “What if what you see is not what you like?”

“You change it, with this.” She told him, holding up the black, thin rectangle she’d used to cut off the device’s sound. Despite its size and color, Eragon could see all the buttons on it had symbols and lettering next to them as if to label their use.

“The buttons control it?”

“Yeah, more accurately this one controls the TV while this one,” Nasuada paused to raise a grayish looking one that was similar to the first, if a little smoother in design as she pointed to the dark box on the shelf under the television. “Controls the box just under it, which helps the TV display what it receives. I can even choose what I want to record so I can watch it later, if I don’t have time to watch it or would like to view something else without losing the show’s information. Does that make sense?”

The Sapphire glanced between the two remotes and their devices in a sense of awe before a new question arose, causing his wariness to return. “But they can’t see us?”

To his relief, Nasuada only shook her head, dark hair shifting even when in the tail she’d tied it back in for the day. “No, they’re often prerecorded images that are being transmitted remotely. Some of the things they show were made a half year or more in advance so they can show certain things on a weekly basis for a few months before taking a break to record more.”

Eragon nodded as he digested this, looking at the screen to find the man on it was in a long white coat of some kind, standing next to a bed where another man lay upon it while wrapped up in what were obviously bandages. He’d been horrified to know Nasuada also needed medical aid gems couldn’t easily give, as Katrina had told him their magic didn’t always work on the girl. Knowing the Topaz had done her best reading up on human techniques had only quieted his concerns by a margin but enough to not panic completely. It still made seeing a human in such a setting puzzling to him. “Is that man really a healer?”

The dark-skinned girl chuckled as if he’d told a joke. “No, he’s an actor who’s playing a doctor. I told you about theater, remember?”

“Ah yes, the very convincing ‘pretend’.” Eragon returned, recalling that conversation easily, as both the girl and his fellow gems had simply told him it was ‘entertainment’. There were many things that were made to present real things but otherwise showed fictional tales so to appease people seeking such phantasmal thrills. “You also said humans often do nothing else for a living?”

Nasuada nodded, confirming another part of their past conversations about human interests, once again using language he could understand. “Only if they’re really good ‘pretenders’ and don’t bring any nasty trouble on themselves. They’re basically nobles of the new age, with everyone watching for something new to fawn over or intrigued about. I hear some in the acting business are truly nice but the meaner ones are a constant source of scandal and misconduct. Some of it’s just nonsense but other times it’s just sad to watch so I don’t pay much attention. Especially since I’m not old enough for a lot of that stuff yet, and a great deal is just drama."

“Such people sound… less than admirable.”

“Yeah but it’s just how things are sometimes but that’s not really important to what I want to show you.” The girl told him passively enough for the gem to believe she was hardly bothered by the actions of other humans. “Most of what’s on is pretty interesting though: there’s actually a few channels that show really old movies and shows made by people who are dead or too old to act anymore.”

“Really? They continue to display such things long after their… demise?” he asked, having already guessed such a thing was possible for warriors, artists and writers but other people as well? As death was no doubt a constant for humans, it seemed reasonable that all kinds of people would want to be remembered for their deeds, and if it was happening all over the planet… the idea was a bit staggering. To be known almost throughout the whole Empire for one deed or another had been common back in his day so for humans to have a bit more humble approach was very interesting indeed.

“Yes, especially if the actor, director or the movie’s theme is being celebrated in some way by the people controlling the channel. Some are really good while others are so bad you have to love them. It’s like that classical music you were listening to yesterday.”

Eragon’s memory quickly produced the name, having mastered its pronunciation once it had been sounded out for him. “The Beethoven man?”

“Yes, him. He lived over two hundred years ago but wrote and conducted music that was new at the time, all in spite of his increasing disability of becoming truly deaf. Even now, so long after his death, his music is being used either traditionally or in other artist’s pieces all over the world. He changed the world of music that allowed it to evolve into the myriad industry it is now. Just like a number of screen writers, directors and actors are responsible for testing and breaking boundaries in their respective occupations.” Nasuada gave him a kind smile, making the Sapphire blink at the shift in her mood. “Kinda like gems rebelling against the norm so to make something new.”

For lack of anything to say, Eragon chose to simply nod. As mortals, change was constant whether some in their number liked it or not so knowing how much wasn’t that surprising to him at all. He was about to ask more about the show on the screen when he spotted a second box that had yet to be explained, making him point at it. “What about this box? What does it do?”

Nasuada smiled at him again in clear amusement. “Ah, that one plays games.”

The Sapphire warrior perked up, instantly intrigued. “Games?”

“Another industry that broke the mould, a lot. They kinda still do, making new games and advancements all the time. It’s a far more recent invention but some people find it better than a simple chessboard.”

“I like chess.” He muttered quietly, silently glad that out of all the strange things he’d been introduced to, chess was something he recognized. It had only just begun to show up in human culture before he’d gone to sleep and was curious to know how the game had evolved in his time away.

On the bed, his hostess chuckled but didn’t deny his interest. “Not really my game but I’m sure we have a board lying around somewhere. Anyway, did you want to watch something?”

“Perhaps.” Eragon mused aloud, taking in the stack of thin, plastic boxes neatly situated on the small bookshelf by the large window nearby. “Are these more… music?”

Turning to follow his gaze, Nasuada picked up one to reveal a plain looking cover with some sort of animal on it. “They’re like the discs at my dad’s shop but different. These ones are for games, movies and shows that are put out in complete sets by season. A few of these are mostly educational because I like nature.”

Again, Eragon felt his whole being jerk at the idea of new knowledge. “Really?”

“Yeah, some of the information might be outdated though. We can always go on my computer to check and see if the scholars who do such things have discovered anything new.”

Eragon nodded, the ‘computer’ the girl had shown him had been a tad primitive but very useful device he actually recognized and had better chances of understanding. At least with that thing, the most issues he had were with the different programs and how to safely use the ‘internet browser’ already installed on it. Nasuada had to almost tear it from his hands when she showed him a site that illustrated the Earth’s history in astonishing detail, the loss of the device leaving Eragon in a dour mood for over an hour afterwards. He came out of it when Nasuada explained to him that everyone took turns using the device, and would until she could afford to gain another one. This had calmed his simmering temper, leaving him eager to read more and view more pictures of all the things he’d yet to see. Nasuada had yet to explain how the pictures had even been taken but surmised that she was waiting until he got used to most everything else she’d shown him first. They ended up watching the nature show DVDs as she called them, the narrator speaking soft and calm about a place called ‘Japan’ and its diminishing crane population but diverse sea fauna and flora. Eragon took mental notes of the different kinds of materials he could use to replicate the strange bird’s form with, quickly learning how to use the remotes, change out the discs without breaking them and all the while his hostess never complained. It was possible the others had gone through the same process and he was just her most recent student on human innovations.

By the time three days had passed, Eragon had become relatively comfortable in all the new changes to his old home. He had been delighted more than anything to know his gem opened a door in the temple that was truly his own, the many pointed star on the door splitting open to show him a whole space consisting of little but ice crystals pure to the point of being nearly perfect in their translucence. It had to be cold as Nasuada had begun to shiver not two minutes into following him in, and finally left when he became increasingly worried about her fragile human form. At the same time, Eragon was puzzled by the headaches that persisted over the days that went by, uncertain how to define them or even who to tell them about. He wasn’t hurt and his gem was perfectly intact, making the reason for this ailment all the more mysterious, its source puzzling and increasing frequency disturbing. If such pains kept on persisting, Eragon had no way of knowing if his discomfort was something natural, due to his environment or something from before he’d gone into hibernation. By the fourth day, he could feel that his condition was indeed getting worse, as his head felt oddly heavy and his skin perspiring again without any sign to the cause. He feared he would destabilize somehow, no longer eager to leave the temple’s dimensional mysteries to reenter Nasuada’s domain where she would be cornered with limited protections. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the field kept appearing before his eyes almost like a horrible joke or maybe an omen. For a while, Eragon thought he would be able to stay in his new room all day long if the sudden need to check on the girl hadn’t driven him out anyway. When he stepped out of his door, he had to blink a few times to avoid almost tripping on the warp pad when his eyes nearly had the terrain change on him again.

To his equal parts relief and dismay, Nasuada was indeed still in the house but not alone for Katrina was standing with her in the kitchen. His arrival had caused them to stop their preparations for what had to be lunch to look at him, concern immediately on their faces at his tired demeanor. They were moving to meet him halfway by the time he got around the pad and to the wooden floor making up Nasuada’s house, nearly tripping over his own boots as the two women jumped forward to help him. Katrina was giving him a worried stare as she raised her pale yellow hand to his face, flinching when his skin no doubt came off as unnaturally hot. “By the stars, Eragon, you’re burning up! What happened?!”

“I… I don’t know. I just… started to feel… like this.” He gasped, blinking in his growing confusion on not only why he was in a strange building, but why Katrina was there and why Black Onyx looked so short and different. It didn’t match what he recalled about his lady, his leader and was prevented from asking Katrina about it by another stab of pain.

Eragon blinked again. Oh no. He had no idea what was going on, but clearly his still foggy memory was to blame, causing heavy splinters in his view of the past and reality. If this continued, there was no telling what would happen.

Already his two helpers were conversing, Nasuada looking terribly distressed at seeing him so out of sorts. “I don’t understand! He was fine when he regenerated!”

“I don’t know why this is happening either but we need to get him back in the temple, use your mother’s gem to get him to her inner rooms.”

Temple? Mother? Gem? Inner rooms? For some reason, these words made no sense to Eragon as he felt his grasp on things start to slip through his mental fingers. He didn’t mean to make his friend and this strange girl so upset, really. Maybe if they found Roran, Brom or even Oromis, they would calm down.

In front of him, the girl he just knew was called Nasuada was talking to him, turning him toward the strange door he’d come out of. “Eragon, we need to go back into the temple. Can you walk?”

“I can try.” He said honestly, though not really trusting his mobility anymore. Never in all his millennia of existing had he felt this terrible. But if this strange being knew how to help, then who was he to argue? Given how he felt, it wouldn’t be long before he destabilized and became trapped in his gem again, suffering in silence due to something he had no idea how he’d come to be so sick. So he let the two women nudge him into turning back around, ironically for the door to the temple to open when one of the gems lit up to show who was coming out.

As a consequence, the bright flash of red caught his attention, making Eragon blink and turn toward new bright new color only for a myriad of emotions to kick in by instinct alone. A Ruby! He thought in barely contained horror at seeing one of Black Diamond’s most loyal soldiers out of all the gems in the one place he had just started to believe was safe. In seconds, his bow was out of his gem and in his hand, along with a bolt made purely of ice as he practically screamed. “Contact!

“Eragon, no!” Nasuada all but screamed at him, sounding terrified at his sudden, very hostile action.

The shout came too late as the bolt in question was already flying, whistling as it sped through the air and glimmered with the magic he always imbued them with to send as much ice as possible all over the target and the surrounding area. Already the Ruby was reacting, pulling what looked like a kind of curved broadsword from his gem to block the oncoming arrow. Just as predicted, the Ruby’s deflection made the bolt strike the metal with a loud clang!, sending sparks everywhere seconds before the arrow itself blew apart in a shower of icy shards. It was probably a little stronger than necessary but one couldn’t be too careful when dealing with a Ruby, even when he felt someone pulling at his arm. Ignoring the person, Eragon was already summoning another bolt to order, finding his rage was burning hotter than his fear. “It’s okay, Onyx! Just say behind me!”

Next to him, the dark-skinned woman was looking at him in open shock, confusion and alarm mixing together to warp her pretty face. “W-what? No! Eragon, I’m Nasuada remember?!”

In the back of his mind, her words made only so much sense but at the fore, Eragon’s mind was already awash in the confusion that had been battle and war. He didn’t see the young girl’s house and the temple just inside the cave, but the field they’d just visited a few days earlier when it was still occupied by hundreds of gem warriors fighting like animals. The Ruby in front of him was just one of thousands he’d faced before and would take down same as any other, with as much ease as breathing. He bore an oddly handsome face, red skin and fiery eyes going well with deep brown locks as he glared back in defiance. Strangely, he didn’t have any armor on which confused Eragon’s sense of the situation.

His mistake, he thought in cold determination, already notching the new bolt back to hopefully land a devastating blow to this new foe. Yet something happened just as he was drawing the bowstring back to his ear, a dull vibration akin to a gong echoed through his whole body in a sudden ripple of mind-numbing pain. With an agonized gasp, Eragon was curling in on himself as he knelt on the floor, his fight with the Ruby completely forgotten. All around him, there were people shouting overhead as he gasped against his pain, feeling his body tremble and prickle uncomfortably with a foreign energy. Barely able to see his arm through the pain blurring his vision, Eragon felt renewed horror at seeing the limb was becoming oddly distorted, covered in pale blue scales as they overtook the cloth and skin normally seen by his own mind. It had to be a new symptom of his ailment, because it was already heading toward his elbow several scales at a time.

“Eragon!” the familiar, yet not voice called to him, making the Sapphire to turn away from his mutating limb to see the strange likeness of his lady liege lord kneeling over him. To his growing displeasure, the beautiful young female who resembled his lady so was crying.

Pained and confused, his fracturing mind struggled to make sense with what he was seeing, making his response come out almost unbidden in his distress. “O-Onyx? You need to run, they’re coming for you!”

The girl stared at him, obviously baffled before quickly reassuring him in spite of the evident panic she was suffering herself. “Eragon, it’s okay! The war’s over!”

“N-no! No, he’s coming! He’s going to shatter you! He’s going to shatter us all!” he insisted, trying and failing to get up under his own power before a new wave of agony stopped him short. “I—augh!”

“It’s spreading fast! We have to do something!” someone called out from somewhere, Orik by the sound of it. Oh how he enjoyed hearing his fellow warrior’s voice again, even if the reason for his terror escaped Eragon at the moment.

Above him, the girl with Onyx’s face was talking again, pleading through her terror as she cried out. “Eragon, I want to help you! Please, help me help you!”

“But you already helped me….” Eragon stated once his voice chose to work, his words seeming to stop the girl dead for she gaped at him. In spite of everything, her silence gave him the chance to continue, looking her right in the eye as he did. “You freed me, helped me become a warrior, a real one and not the trophy they saw me as. As the toy he tried to turn me into.” The ailing Sapphire felt his strength begin to truly ebb away then, his eyes sliding shut without his permission as he finally managed the words he’d been wanting to say for even he didn’t know how long anymore. “Thank you….”

Darkness came for him then, blocking out the voices calling his name and shutting out everything like a cruel cage door. His senses warped again then, the discordance in his being sending him falling down into a dark abyss that pressed in from all sides, threatening to suffocate him just for being there. He thought he saw light somewhere overhead but no longer had the strength to get there, to free himself from his new prison. At the same time, what he recalled from his last moments with Onyx suddenly came into focus now no longer distorted by being bubbled, allowing him to remember properly what had once been lost to him.

Dashing through the hills with urgent purpose, Eragon knew he had limited time to reach the rebellion’s leader, Black Onyx before their dreaded foe could join them on the field. Black Diamond had brought a massive army with him, consisting of Rubies and Jaspers who seemed to be just as twisted and cruel as their master. The same master he’d barely escaped when his original mistress, Blue Diamond had been overthrown by the maniacal gem. Ships were hanging in the sky, shooting at one another with magical lasers while where he was on planetside, everything was chaotic. He’d once been positioned on the tallest hill to strike down the enemy gems from on high but as the last of his archery unit, Eragon could only rally their forces so many times before they were taken down. After leaving a fellow Sapphire in charge, Eragon sought to at least get fresh orders so they weren’t using the same tactics over and over. Just reaching his lady’s side was proving a task all its own, as he dodged multiple foes and their attacks, often poofing them and leaving their gems where they fell in the grass before running on and barely stopping. By the time he did reach where he last knew the black gem to be, he was winded and perhaps a little singed but in one piece. Keen eyes scanned the battlefield only to see the one thing he’d hoped he never would: Onyx, standing tall and beautiful in her black armor with sword and shield in hand… facing off Black Diamond himself.

The hulking giant of a gem was exactly as Eragon last knew him to be: unnaturally tall, standing straight as a tower in his black armor, grey complexion and ebony orbs somehow bright with the madness that had brought him to power in the first place. His sword was a large and jagged looking thing right along with a nasty-looking dagger he seemed to have now. And since Eragon had never seen it before, he could only imagine it was something the powerful Diamond had come up with to further his goals. Seeing Onyx standing alone only made him even more anxious, calling on his bow to send a volley at the massive gem hopefully be enough of a distraction for her to either attack or escape. All five of his bolts flew and struck true, sending ice all over the giant Diamond’s shoulder and part of his face, feeling a sense of dread when the much larger gem barely even flinched at the attack. Mad eyes of black fell on him in a lazy glance and a broad grin, leaving Eragon feeling chills as the conqueror spoke in a terribly smooth voice. “Ah, there you are my little bowman. Tell me… are you done playing around with this rabble you call a rebellion?”

Such an obvious taunt would’ve had Eragon fuming in his younger days, furious and hotly intent on bashing in the face of any gem that dared belittle him so. But this gem wasn’t some cocky warrior from the arena, he was Black Diamond and he was hardly someone one could sucker punch into submission. Still, the very suggestion that he was ‘playing around’ was revolting. Ignoring how such cold, mad eyes made his skin crawl, Eragon only glowered back as he spat venomously. “Not until we push you off the mountaintop you call your kingdom, you crazy bastard! I’d rather be shattered than spend even an hour under your rule!”

For whatever reason, his words had the towering giant of a gem grinning all the wider, almost cackling in his impish delight of raising his oversized sword into the air. “Then allow me to oblige you!”

Blue eyes widened at the sight of the massive blade coming down with more speed and strength than he’d originally believed, causing the archer to jump away at the last second so the crazy Diamond wouldn’t adjust his swing on him. No sooner had he escaped the sword that the dagger was coming down, its tip digging into the earth where he’d once been like it was actually made of water. In a few bounds, he was out of the Diamond’s reach and beside his liege lord, who was gazing at him in shock. “Eragon!”

“I’m okay, just stay behind me!” he told her, taking in her long dark hair, smooth face and hourglass form in her signature grey dress. Like in every battle they fought in together, she looked untouched by all the pain and darkness around them. “We have to retreat, gather the others and come up with a new plan!”

Black Onyx stared back at him as if he’d suddenly spouted a riddle. “No, our chance is now! This might not come again, if ever!”

“For all your wisdom, don’t be a fool, Onyx!” the Sapphire snapped back with maybe more force than he intended, already pushing her back toward another set of hills so Black Diamond couldn’t come after them right away. “I followed you so other gems like me could have a chance at being more than whatever the elites said we should be! You can’t do that if we’re caught or worse right now! Arrogance will just get us killed!”

His liege lord looked uncertain but didn’t fight his insistent pulling then. “No… you’re right. Let’s fall back and get help.”

“Right.” Eragon said, glad to know he wouldn’t have to drag her away by force like he honestly didn’t want to. He respected her too much to treat her like a newly grown gem. “With me, my lady.”

Onyx merely nodded, not about to question his command as he led them further away from their fearsome enemy, hoping to lose him in the confusion of battle. He was no Pearl but he was a powerful warrior and always did his job in protecting Onyx when it counted. Like a phantom through the smoke, a familiar figure was quick to join them: lithe and beautiful, the Emerald called Arya was soon with them with her thin sword and green fighting leathers. She was older than him by a few centuries and had been cold to him after first joining their cause but had since warmed up to Eragon, and he dared think that he might love her even if it was possible she would never love him back. But in the field, Arya was all business same as now, calling over the din of the fighting in a firm tone. “What’s happening?”

“We need to regroup! Black Diamond is here!” he called back, silently glad to have another ally that would help in protecting their leader from the giant of a gem.

As happened often in battle, Arya had trouble hiding her shock as she almost yelled back in turn. “What?!”

Eragon wanted to say something else but was distracted by an eerily familiar shadow blocking out what little light there was. “Move!” he all but screamed, pushing the Emerald one way so he could take Onyx by the waist and jump out of the giant blade’s path. The act was so quick he almost stumbled when he landed, calling through the dust urgently. “Arya!”

“I’m alrig—ah!” her call was cut off by a pained shout, Black Diamond’s intimidating figure hard to miss even before the dust settled and one could see he’d taken up the thin Emerald into his giant hand. Standing tall, Black Diamond held his friend almost impossibly high overhead, and to the Sapphire’s dismay, quite possibly out of any reach of help.

“Arya!” Eragon called again, feeling his panic get the better of him in a rare moment of crumbling self-control, unwilling to see another friend be slain by the madman seeking to crush them all. He was sending arrow after arrow at the giant gem, only to feel increasing horror when yet again his efforts didn’t even faze the man in the slightest. Instead, the massive gem was holding Arya as if the smaller gem were nothing more than a toy, a clawed finger already tapping playfully at the square emerald gem on the woman’s shoulder. To Eragon’s horror, the fragile cracking noise that soon followed seemed to dominate everything, frozen as he saw his friend writhe in agony as her gem was broken. Seconds later, it burst apart with a deafening crash, turning Arya’s body glowing white as it destabilized and her screams cut off as she no longer had a mind or a body to express herself with. As Black Diamond unclenched his fist with that dark grin of his, allowed deep green yet still beautiful shards to cascade to the ground in a shower of shimmering crystals.

Beyond even his understanding, Eragon felt his gem burn hot in his palm even as the ground around him began to pale and crackle with the arrival of a thin sheet of ice spreading almost to the hills around. The air temperature dropped significantly but Eragon didn’t notice, only seeing Black Diamond and feeling the overwhelming urge to do something, anything to make him pay for what he’d just done. He almost didn’t see the Diamond’s rare show of surprise when some of the ice rose from the ground like an extra limb, making the gem monarch cry out as he was knocked over by the shower of frosty crystals. In an effort to protect himself, Black Diamond whacked and slashed his sword at this new attack, snarling angrily when the more he beat back, more of the ice just rose up to take him back down. It was more power than Eragon had actively used before but knew it was the only way they were going to win. His confidence threatened to waver when Black Diamond chose to use a different tactic: striking at them instead of the element trying to hold him down. Both he and Onyx moved swiftly to avoid his blows, the giant blades coming close to at least crushing them once or twice. For a moment, Eragon believed their moves would tire the larger gem out until the giant’s blade moved and he spotted something new.

“Onyx!” he called out, hoping the woman would rise on her own. Either through her own error or because of debris, she’d collapsed almost too far away from him, her weapons had skittered away from her reach, leaving her defenseless.

No… no, not her too! Eragon thought desperately, knowing that simply calling to her wouldn’t do any good. He had to do something, fast! Looking back to where Black Diamond was still making do with his uneven position, Eragon knew this gem wasn’t going to let them leave the field alive.

With no thought to his own safety, or even his survival, the Sapphire archer was up and moving before he even knew what he wanted to do. His boots gave him the traction he needed to close the distance across the expanse of ice his power had created, raising his bow even when it felt like a futile gesture in the hopes of shielding the downed woman from the coming blow. By some miracle, Eragon’s bow held under the otherwise crushing pressure the massive dagger brought down on him, his bow cracking before finally breaking. All he felt next was pain as the dagger’s tip found his exposed chest and dug deep, hearing Onyx call out to him from somewhere behind him. Looking down at himself, Eragon saw the dagger had dug in deep and given its size, was probably sticking out of his back in a terrifying fashion. Unlike with mortal creatures, there was no blood but he was puzzled to see an inky black was trying to spread itself to overtake the blue of his clothes, making his new wound hurt worse. He knew same as any new rookie on the field that there was no walking away from a powerful wound like this. With what mobility he had left, Eragon turned as best he could to see Onyx had recovered herself and was staring at him in tearful shock, prompting a strange sense of peace in him. She was safe and alive, and thanks to him would probably continue to fight longer after he was gone, maybe for good. He had no idea why, but he felt the urge to smile weakly and say the words he’d wanted to say for what felt like ages. “Thank… you….”

Onyx stared at him, speechless in her awe, anything that could’ve been said or done lost as Eragon felt his body finally destabilize in his pained fatigue and he could retreat into his gem… falling victim to the pull of the void soon after.

But this new void was nothing like the old one. At least that one had been comfortable, its ability to keep him from being too ill at ease with slumbering for so long masterful by contrast while this one… this one just hurt. Everything hurt, thinking seemed to cause pain that was far worse than anything he could readily recall, clearly or otherwise. It hurt so much he feared he would crack, maybe even shatter if it didn’t go away soon.

Like an answer to his prayer, the nameless agony seemed to at first slowly, then quickly ebb away as something about the void he was in changed. It wasn’t the stifling dark anymore, but the mist-filled abyss that felt more like being hugged by a cloud than drowned in an ocean of murky water. Soon, as his strength returned, that fell away too as his form unfolded from within his gem and allowed him to rejoin the world. This time, his regeneration seemed a little slower and for some reason, he opened his eyes to find himself staring at the ceiling of Nasuada’s house before he seemed to fall. Quickly fearing he would hit the floor, Eragon let out a noise of surprise when he landed on something—or rather someone—else instead. Blinking in his swiftly fading disorientation, Eragon felt his face heat up at seeing the Ruby he’d just attacked stared at him with just as much surprise. Instinct got Eragon moving to all but tumble out of the other gem’s grip and onto his own feet, astonished to find it was nighttime given how the lights were on and the windows were dark. Stranger still, the Ruby seemed to be the only other person around, making the moment even more awkward. If he didn’t know any better, the stern looking Ruby appeared… concerned? Eragon had no idea how to respond, not after he clearly recollected attacking the crimson gem maybe a few hours ago. To his relief, the way they’d come to stand gave him a clear path to the warp pad which he ran straight for once he couldn’t stand facing off with the other gem warrior anymore. He distantly heard the gem call to him before the pad’s magic took him away to his barely considered destination.

Seconds later Eragon recognized the cliffs of his sanctuary before he went off running down the winding paths like he was being chased to leap off the nearest edge that to an observer might appear to be suicidal abandon. But for Eragon, it was but a step toward the freedom he desperately needed as he called on the magic in his gem to change his form into the great winged dragon that had once been the core of his fame back on Homeworld. Covered in scales that glittered same as the jewel in his hand, Eragon glided on the wind currents filling the canyon to head for his old cave, well above the valley he often used for training and once upon a time for the occasional nap. The cave was darker than he last recalled, when he reached it, driving his mood further down about how much time he’d lost and how everything was so drastically different. Unwilling to remain so large anymore, Eragon let himself retake his usual form to find a dark corner to curl up in so he could wallow in his confused misery properly.

It was hours before he finally heard rushing footsteps and gasping breaths near the cave’s mouth, leaving him very much wanting to hide even more when Nasuada's urgent voice echoed into the cave. “Eragon?!”

“Nas, sweetie, he might not want to come out.” he heard Katrina tell the obviously distressed girl gently. Hearing the Topaz speak so kindly nearly made him scoff, as such was typical of the passive gem. “For all we know, he’s still… confused.”

“But he’s better now! I healed him, I know I did!” Nasuada insisted, once again shouting loudly into the cave. “Eragon, come out… please?”

“Should I?” he called back eventually, half-hearted and morose. The last thing he wanted was a stern lecture from his oldest friends about his behavior. Didn’t they know he hadn’t really been in control at the time?

“Yes, you should! Now come out or I’m coming in!”

Eragon sighed, positive that if Nasuada was this stubborn, she no doubt got it from Black Onyx before she’d… done whatever it was to create a half-human gem. He thought about lingering behind some rocks that had broken away from the wall and the ceiling and linger there, until he heard Roran chide him as soon as he fell still. “All the way, Eragon, and you know it.”

Dammit. He thought but didn’t argue, trudging his way out of the shadows and into the open, just to have Nasuada throw herself at him with a strong hug. The move threw him off guard but returned the gesture all the same, if hesitantly out of his own anxiety. She didn’t seem to resent him for what he’d done, whether he’d been in complete control or not and it was clear the others didn’t really begrudge him either. Even the Ruby, who was hanging back and appearing a bit watchful over how things might unfold for everyone else. Before long, Nasuada was pulling back and giving him the most pitiful look as she watched his face for the truth. “Are you alright? Do you remember anything?”

He thought about lying, about saying that he didn’t but couldn’t bring himself to spout a weak attempt at deception to such a pitiful face. “A little. Just enough to know that I wasn’t… in good health. Least of all in a fashion that I understand. What happened to me?”

“Corruption. We’ve seen it before in other gems but this is the first time we’ve been able to circumvent it from twisting a gem completely, let alone reversing the process. As far as we know, you never met any corrupted gems since they were after your time with us. Yet we can’t explain how you came to be stained like that. Can you?” Roran asked, the Tiger’s Eye watching him with hazel eyes searching his face for any sign of anything telling.

Eragon stared, his last memory and now past condition suddenly connecting in a way he could now understand. “I… that makes sense with what I remember.” He said, looking down at Nasuada with a meaningful glance. “About Onyx.”

The girl in question blinked, thrown by this. “My mother?”

The Sapphire nodded, seating himself on a nearby rock else his legs give out since he still felt vaguely tired. Still, he didn’t avoid the young girl’s gaze as he explained. “We… were fighting in that field we visited a few days ago. I only remember my part in it but not much else but… your mother, Arya and I fought Black Diamond.”

“I remember that! He came here in person to try and destroy us himself! Bloody arrogant too, even for an ‘all-powerful’ gem like him, as he liked to say the… fool.” The Agate stated darkly, quickly stopping himself from saying a bad word in Nasuada’s presence. But I don’t recall seeing you when we fought him.” Orik noted, Katrina and Roran nodding along with the Agate’s words. In the back, the Ruby was watching on still, frowning at what he was hearing.

At this, Eragon didn’t hide his sadness. “Then that was after I was… defeated.”

“Wait, you said Arya was with you… does that mean you saw--?” Katrina gasped, horror unfolding on her smooth face.

The Topaz nearly choked on a sob when Eragon nodded woefully, his clear memory finally able to confirm what had to be an old fear. “I had no choice but to watch him pick her up like a toy… and break her gem like it was nothing. It made me so angry that I attacked him with everything I had. Onyx and I tried to take him down but your mother tripped somehow and he was going to crush her. I jumped in the way to shield her from his blade and….”

Silence fell, the group of gems speechless, Eragon clutching at his shoulder where he felt phantom steel digging into his body. Even for an observer, the Ruby looked shocked at this news while the others were at a loss for words. Finally, Nasuada filled the quiet with a timid whisper. “Then I found you in her bubble, where you’ve been waiting to wake up ever since.”

“Yes.” He confirmed, as he had to assume the older gem’s bubble had been preserving him long enough to get rid of the corruption once a cure could be found, likely his lady’s plan from the start. “The blade hurt more than it should have and at the time, I didn’t understand. All I knew was I’d prevented Onyx from being hurt… or worse, at Black Diamond’s hand. If the blade he had is responsible for these corrupted gems you speak of, then he used it to great effect before his retreat from this planet.”

“Shattered.” Roran stated firmly, making Eragon blink.

“What?”

The taller gem nodded as he explained, his face set in a grimace. “Onyx shattered him, and his forces scattered right after. Once they were all gone we broke the galaxy pads so no one could use them to come here. But like we told you, they send ships nowadays, usually just scouting parties poking around.”

“But there are still elites back there that might still have uses for this place.” Eragon guessed, the pieces coming together on why their old world insisted on sending more troops.

Roran’s grim face and hard eyes held firm all the same. “That’s our fear.”

Eragon sighed. This was more than he wanted to handle all at once. Even after regenerating again, he felt tired and honestly wanted to spend some time alone. “We’re obviously not going to get much done tonight. You guys should head back to the temple. I’ll be… around.”

“Or you could come back to the temple, use the room you have there. It’ll be much easier than trying to find you out here.” Nasuada reasoned, the suggestion making Eragon stare. He hadn’t considered such an option as he felt a little out of sorts still.

A glance at his friends showed they were just as eager to see him back at the temple with them, though Nasuada’s pouting made him cave at last. “Well… if you insist.”

“Yes! Awesome!” the girl cheered, pleased with her small accomplishment. It was then she seemed to remember the only other gem standing with them, somehow not the least bit nervous about the Ruby being in such close proximity to Eragon. “Oh right, before anyone forgets, that… is Murtagh.”

In other words, the Ruby I tried to murder for seemingly no reason. For a few seconds, Eragon was at a loss on what to do, let alone say, making what he did do sound incredibly pathetic to his ears. “Hi… sorry for almost killing you?”

To his surprise, instead of getting angry or even nasty like most Rubies were prone to do, this one instead gave a passive shrug. “It happens.”

Ookay, this is a first. The Sapphire mused, giving little time to linger on it as Nasuada was already eagerly pulling him down the cliffside path with her, nearly marching head while babbling excitedly about giving him his own space beyond his own room in her house if he really wanted. Around him, his friends were smiling as if they knew once the human girl got started, there was essentially no stopping her. Then again, Black Onyx had hummed and hawed over him when he’d first entered her service to end the very corrupt Diamond Order and its empire so gems like him who didn’t quite fit the mould could live with true freedom. Nasuada wasn’t her mother, not really and somehow Eragon was okay with that. Glancing up at the stars that had been so familiar so long ago and were becoming just as much again, Eragon found he felt he was okay with everything and whatever came next.

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