The book opens in Tronjheim, the city in the center of Farthen Dûr, a hollow mountain. It is three days after an epic battle, where the dwarves and Varden—human resistance fighters—defeated the Urgals and dark magicians sent by the evil king Galbatorix. With the help of Arya, an elf, and his dragon, Saphira, Eragon turned the tide of the battle by killing the powerful Shade, Durza. He is now a hero among the people of Tronjheim, who call him Shadeslayer, but his back is badly injured and he is weakened and shaken.
Ajihad, the leader of the Varden, Eragon’s friend Murtagh, two magicians called the Twins, and a small group of soldiers, have been tracking retreating Urgals through the tunnels of Farthen Dûr. Eragon and others have assembled to welcome the party on its return, but just as it emerges into sight, Urgals attack the men from behind. Bythe time Eragon and the others arrive to help, Ajihad’s party has been defeated; the Urgals have disappeared with Murtagh and the Twins, and all the other men are dead or dying. Though a rescue party can’t be mustered immediately, on Eragon’s request, Arya follows the Urgals into the tunnels to try to find the captives.
Just before he dies, Ajihad asks Eragon to promise to keep the Varden from falling into chaos and Eragon agrees. What should have been a moment for celebration is instead a sad occasion as the welcoming party returns to the center of Tronjheim.