Category Archives: Dilmir (Repost)

Dilmir (Repost)

Epilogue

The laws of the elves are often as much a hindrance as they are help. Generations of councils had formulated the laws long ago into a complicated web, leaving no way out, no end free. Indeed, the only purpose of the council was to carry out the actions that the law bound them to. No true decisions were ever made, for an answer had been formed for every circumstance. The only thing that the council added to the workings of Eld’rin, then, was their corruption, for no earthly being can be perfect.

Therefore, the council had no choice when confronted with Dilmir’s actions. He had, to all appearances, driven a powerful enemy from Eld’rin. Though they would have doubtless kept him in a cell given the chance, they were bound by their own laws, and were forced to retract his banishment, as Eltuthar had foreseen.

On the same grounds, they removed Alfimir’s banishment as well. Though they felt more secure with this result, it was a part of Eltuthar’s plan also. While banished, Alfimir could have broken as many laws as he liked trying to kill Dilmir, and the council would have no authority to stop him, even if they wanted to. However, back under their rule, Alfimir dared not attack any elf again, for the penalty for a second breach of the law was far worse than banishment.

And so the daily life of Dilmir resumed its former pace. In the morning, he practiced magic with Elmir. In the afternoon, he dueled Ilrin with increasing skill, though he did not defeat her again for a long while.

Eltuthar went, disguised, to Dilmir’s village and convinced his parents to flee with him. Mere hours after they had left, Alfimir, through a frenzied search, found their location, and arrived, too late. Eltuthar left for unknown corners of Feylund, and there continued his search for the illusive Curse that so blinded the elves, his kin.

Dilmir waited a long while for Eltuthar to send word to him. He heard nothing, though the Eth Aniliim were never seen again at Eld’rin in those days. Once Eltuthar escaped the detection of the elves, the council could no longer hold Felnir. Their laws provided them with the right to capture him in order to eliminate the threat of Eltuthar, but with the threat gone, they were forced to release him. He rode south, and was not heard of since.

However, both outside and inside the walls of the great elven city, things were stirring, events that would shape the whole of Feylund for ages to come.

But that is another story.

Chapter Twenty-Eight – Through a Tangle of Roots

A semblance of confusion still reigned at the center of Eld’rin, but the lower district was quiet, save for the footsteps of two lone elves, who walked side by side along the system of roots. Their steps were wandering, yet they knew where they walked. They said nothing, but remained silent, their own thoughts and each other company enough.

At length, however, one spoke.

“Where will he go, Eltuthar?” asked Ilrin.

“Somewhere safe,” replied Dilmir, looking ahead. “He’ll take my parents with him, so that Alfimir can’t find them.”

“Do you think he’ll ever come back? To Eld’rin, I mean?”

Dilmir considered for a moment. “Yes,” he said decisively. “He’ll come back, some day. He’ll find a way to lift the curse that Sonlen gave him. When my training is complete, I’ll join him and help him search.”

They walked on, silent once again, for nearly a minute, until Ilrin broke the silence again.

“Why do you believe in him?” she asked. “How do you know what he says is true, and the council is wrong? They were right about the consequences of his discoveries, after all.”

Dilmir was silent for a moment. “…Because I have to,” he finally said, suddenly realizing it. “I believe in him because I have to.” It was clear to him why this was so, but every time he tried to put it into words, his thoughts became jumbled and confused.

“I don’t think you should try to hide your power anymore,” said Ilrin, interrupting his thoughts.

“Why not?” asked Dilmir, surprised.

“Well,” said Ilrin, “the council kept on bringing up all the things you could do, without mentioning the things you did do.”

“I hadn’t done anything yet,” laughed Dilmir.

“Exactly,” said Ilrin, serious. “Their fears were based off of what you did to the wolves. That was all they had seen. I saw how Eltuthar used his magic when I was at Arath Imil. I may not approve of Eltuthar’s reasoning the way you do, at least not yet, but Arath Imil showed me that magic can be used as more than just a weapon. It can be used to help to bring beauty to whatever it touches, and spread kindness, peace, and love to those that use it. That’s what you have to do, Dilmir,” she said, suddenly stopping and turning to him. “You have to use it. Use it so that it can be seen for what it is, and for what it can bring.”

Dilmir looked at her for a long while, suddenly realizing fully just how lucky he was to have her as his friend. His face broke into a smile. He knew now why he had to believe in Eltuthar. Ilrin had said it for him.

Silently, he put his hand in hers and, together, they continued walking down the tangle of roots.

Chapter Twenty-Seven – Plots in Eld’rin

“You can’t come with me, Dilmir,” said Eltuthar, leaning across the table to look at him. “I will find a place to hide while Alfimir searches for me, but you must stay here.”

They were seated where, not too many days before, Dilmir and Ilrin had sat eating dinner with Aimim. Aimim herself now stood a little ways away, leaning against a far wall, watching the pair of them with a small frown upon her face. From what she had told Dilmir, Eltuthar had arrived last night, carrying him, wounded and unconscious. She had tended to them both, healing their injuries with care, but Dilmir still had a dully throbbing headache. She was, however distantly, related to Eltuthar, and had of course agreed to shelter him, but she was displeased. Every moment he spent in her house was the one in which the council might find him. Eld’rin was the least safe place for him at the moment.

“Why?” asked Dilmir, ignoring his aunt’s dark looks. “I want to come with you. The elves wouldn’t let me stay here anyway.”

“You have training to complete,” said Eltuthar calmly. “I, too, wish to have you by my side, but there are things you must learn first. Things you must resolve. Your training is one of them. And besides, when Alfimir stops searching for me, which he likely will after the first few months, I may very well have use for someone in Eld’rin on my side.”

“But I won’t be in Eld’rin,” said Dilmir, leaning forward as well. “I’ve been banished. The only place I could go is one of the far outposts in the Great Forest. Or perhaps I could live with the dwarves,” he added, as an afterthought. The dwarves disliked the elves on principle, but tolerated them because they had to trade with them to stay alive. Dilmir had learned some dwarvish when he was young, however, and had always thought he might like to visit their halls sometime.

“No, Dilmir,” said Eltuthar, “listen. There are dark days ahead. Now is not the time to relax and think that all will be well; it won’t. There will eventually be blood over my findings. More blood,” he revised wryly. “When that time comes, I will need you with me, but I will need you prepared. There is very little you could do to help me at this time, so help yourself by completing your training. When you are nineteen, I will send word to you, telling you of my location. You may join me then, but not before.

“No one as yet knows that you are related to me, save for Alfimir and Ilrin. And you, of course, Aimim,” he added, nodding his head to her. Her expression did not soften.

“The others suspect it though,” said Dilmir.

“Yes, but they can’t prove it,” replied Eltuthar. “Further more, only Alfimir recognized you last night, meaning that he can’t prove that either, as he has no witnesses. Everyone else who might have seen you was burned in the fires. Suspicions are all the council has, and they can’t banish you on that alone.

“Alfimir will likely go after your parents, but I’ll get to them first. They can go into hiding with me. They’ll be safe. He can’t hurt you as long as you stay at Eld’rin. He’s already attacked you once; he wouldn’t dare do so again.

“I’ve thought of a plan that ought to revoke the banishment on you and hopefully throw Alfimir off of my scent, at least for a space. When your banishment is gone, I want you to go to the library, and take the documents that trace your parents to Eltuthar. Hide them somewhere safe. Only Alfimir knows of that connection as far as I know, and I would prefer to keep it that way. After that, continue your training. That is the most important thing for you now. While you train, I will redouble my efforts, and with a bit of luck, lift this curse that Sonlen placed on me.”

Dilmir sat back in his chair, his arms folded. He would very much like to go with Eltuthar, to learn all the secrets of magic he had discovered, and yet, something was holding him back. It wasn’t that Eltuthar’s words made perfect sense, which they did; rather, it was that Ilrin would have to stay at Eld’rin. He knew this was her home, and little more than banishment could force her to leave it.

A little over a week away from her had made it obvious to him that she was a part of his life. Leaving her, even though he would be with Eltuthar, would be like leaving a none-too-small piece of himself behind. He couldn’t do it, no matter how much he might want to.

“Alright,” he finally said, leaning forward again. “I’ll stay. What is this plan?”

The sky was clear. The noon sun shone brightly, casting dappled squares of light upon the floor of Eld’rin far below. Dilmir enjoyed the moment of silence, rare in the past week, as he walked, Eltuthar beside him, towards the center of the great city. He had traversed this path so many times that he knew it well, and allowed his mind to wander, soaking in the loveliness of the summer day and the smooth warmth of the sun.

He would have liked to remove the hood he wore, such was the heat of the day, but knew he mustn’t. Eltuthar, too, wore one, which he would keep on until the proper moment.

It had been a daring plan Eltuthar had come up with, but he seemed certain it would work. Dilmir, however, saw gaping holes at every turn. Still, it was the best they had, and the fact that his banishment had not been announced made things simpler. The council probably wanted to keep attention away from me altogether, he reasoned. 

Elves passed them by without a second look, rapidly going about their own business, oblivious as to who walked among them.

“You know that if we’re seen, it’s all over,” muttered Dilmir to the shrouded figure on his right.

“They won’t,” Eltuthar muttered back. “Just make sure they don’t see you until the time is right.” Dilmir nodded, keeping his eyes downcast, but he knew this wouldn’t be easy.

The high sun poured down onto their bent heads as they walked, the black cloth of their hoods amplifying the heat. They had chosen noon because nearly all of the elves would be inside Eld’rin, either having lunch or going to it.

They made their unhurried way to the center of Eld’rin, at the exact spot where Ilrin and Dilmir met every morning. The place prodded disturbing thoughts in Dilmir. If they failed, he might never meet Ilrin again, let alone here. Trying to push the unpleasant idea away, he looked up at the leafy canopy far above them.

“Right,” said Eltuthar, gazing in the same direction. “Get hidden. Let me know when you are ready.”

Dilmir nodded and moved off towards the root houses, moving slowly and being sure to keep his head down. He walked a little ways, and then slipped into the cool shadows beneath a large root. Grateful for the shade, he took off the cloak and hood, and, setting them on the ground at his feet, cast a spell that caused the grass to rise up and swallow them from sight. It would not do for them to be found. Satisfied, Dilmir turned around, and froze.

Ilrin was standing barely ten yards away, confusion evident on her face. Of course thought Dilmir, mentally berating himself. I should have known she’d be heading back to the field by now. Not knowing what else to do, however, he beckoned her towards him; she couldn’t betray his presence, not yet.

After a moment, she came hesitantly towards him. When she was close enough, Dilmir grasped her arm and pulled her into the shadows.

“What are you doing here?” Ilrin hissed, as Dilmir released her. “If you’re seen, they’ll —”

“You’ll see in a moment, Ilrin,” said Dilmir, carefully watching Eltuthar. “Just don’t let anyone see you.”

Normally, Ilrin would have pressed him for an explanation, but she sensed the urgency in his voice, and remained silent, watching Eltuthar as well.

Dilmir raised his hands, though only very slightly so they would stay hidden, and slowly extended his magic upwards, towards the place where branches from all four trees of Eld’rin met and wove together. Leaves covered the spot, and delicate vines crept around the branches, lending their shade as well. In a moment, he felt the touch of the living plants, and wove his magic throughout them, though he was careful to not alter their position.

He looked back down at Eltuthar, and the absurdity of what he was looking at suddenly struck him. Eltuthar stood, serenely waiting, in the middle of Eld’rin, elves who would kill him given half a chance passing him by. Dilmir took careful aim, and sent two small bolts of magic into the ground at Eltuthar’s feet. They sent up two clouds of dust from the worn path on which he stood. Eltuthar opened his eyes.

“Behold!” he cried, quite suddenly, raising his arms and causing his hood to fall back, “I am Eltuthar!”

Several elves, including Ilrin, gasped and drew back, some stumbling in their hurry to get away.

“What is he doing?” asked Ilrin, her voice shocked, her eyes wide.

“You’ll see in a moment,” said Dilmir, though he kept his voice down, for several elves were rushing past him, their fearful eyes on Eltuthar.

“Do not run, my friends,” Eltuthar called after them, holding out his arms in a gesture of peace. “I mean you no harm. I have come to show you the true nature of your magic. I have come to show you what the council dares not.”

Dilmir privately thought Eltuthar should not have included the last line, as many of the elves were fiercely loyal to the council, but he remained silent. He had other worries at the moment.

Some of the elves stopped running at Eltuthar’s words, their faces taking on a hint of interest, but most only hastened to put more distance between themselves and the Dark General.

“You believe,” said Eltuthar, turning in a circle to face all of the elves, “that you have been shown the nature of magic, how to control it, how to use it, but there is far more to it than what you have been taught. I have discovered this knowledge, and seek to share it with you.”

One of the elves about Eltuthar stood straight, his head held high. “You seek only more power for yourself!” he shot at Eltuthar. “You seek to overthrow the council and rule all the elves!”

Eltuthar turned to him. “The council would have you believe so,” he said, calmly, “but such is not the truth of the matter. I am willing to share this power with you, if you will only listen to me.”

“And why should we hear you?” shouted the elf. “We’ve seen what your power has done.”

Eltuthar looked at him for a moment, and then raised his arms. Instantly, Dilmir, who had not severed his magic, moved the branches of the trees high above, causing several twigs to rain down upon the elf. Concentrating, he caused the branches to twist about in graceful curves, beginning to untwine themselves. The elves, seeing only Eltuthar, concluded that it was he that was working the magic. “Destruction is not all that my power can work,” said Eltuthar quietly, speaking directly to the elf, who still faced him. “See for yourself. There is so much more to magic than you realize, and I will fight strife over it until my dying day.”

The elf looked uneasily at him, and then up at the trees.

“See how easily I control my magic, how well it obeys my command. Only with great concentration and time can one of you achieve such a feat. I can do it instantly.”

Dilmir sent a spell flying at the roots buried at Eltuthar’s feet, and vines accordingly burst from them, waving through the air like things possessed.

“Do you deny you would like to learn this power?” asked Eltuthar.

The elf did not reply, but eyed the vines warily.

“This is but a taste of what awaits you, of what power is just beyond your grasp. I can help you. I can show you the true nature of magic.”

The elf seemed to break out of a trance. “You would show us some dark magic, of the evil breed used by Cyprien,” he cried. “We will not use such foul means to accomplish our will!”

“No,” said Eltuthar hastily, the vines still circling him, twisting in the air elegantly. “I would no sooner touch dark magic than you would. I assure you, what I show you, you already wield. The elves will in time learn what I have discovered. I only offer it to you now.”

With a sudden awful creaking, the four trees of Eld’rin began moving away from each other. Dilmir looked up. It had not occurred to him that the branches were actually holding the trees in place. He quickly hastened to twine them back together. At that moment, however, a blinding flash of light erupted behind Eltuthar, and the form of an elf appeared within it.

“Have we not shown you already,” said the form as the light dissipated about him, “that we despise your magic?” Alfimir raised his head and looked at Eltuthar. Despite himself, Dilmir grinned. The plan was actually working.

“Have we not shown you,” repeated Alfimir, “that we have seen through your lies? Have we not shown you that we know your true motives?”

“You have shown me,” said Eltuthar calmly turning to him, “that you have been blinded by the motives you invented for me, and ignored those which I told you.”

Alfimir laughed. “You say you have power beyond what we can imagine,” he said. “I do hope it includes more than simply moving trees. While it may be impressive, it will do nothing to aid you against me.” Without giving Eltuthar time to reply, he summoned a fireball from nowhere and flung it at him.

Ilrin drew in her breath sharply, but the fireball simply bounced off of an invisible barrier before Eltuthar, and slowly burned itself out at his feet.

Dilmir felt the shield he had placed about Eltuthar, and found it intact.

“You, of all people, should know what my power includes, Alfimir,” said Eltuthar quietly, who had not even flinched as the fireball exploded before him. Several of the other elves backed away as he spoke, but they were hampered by the crowd that had gathered.  “Do you truly wish to test my power, and show these assembled here what I am capable of? If so, please do, for it will only prove my point to them.”

“I know full well what you are capable of,” snarled Alfimir, “and at the moment, it doesn’t include much.” Eltuthar smiled at him knowingly. “Be gone, sorcerer!” cried Alfimir, flinging a desperately complicated spell at him. The spell crashed into the shield about Eltuthar and disintegrated. In the shadows, Dilmir quickly supplied another.

“Your fight is hopeless, Alfimir,” said Eltuthar, looking at him sadly. “There are none who can defeat me.”

Dilmir threw several extra shields around Eltuthar, and then, taking Ilrin quite by surprise, stepped out of the shadows, first checking behind him to make sure that no elf saw him do so.

“In that,” he said, spreading his feet slightly apart and facing Eltuthar, “you are wrong.”

Eltuthar turned to him, looking bemused. “And who is this?” he asked of the crowd at large. No reply met his ears, though Dilmir could see Alfimir staring at him, his mouth open. He turned back to Eltuthar. “Too long have we lived under the shadow you have cast over us,” he said, “cowering for fear that you would send your army to slay us all.”

Eltuthar said nothing, but remained looking at him, his face blank.

“But no longer!” cried Dilmir. “We have slain your army, and burned the place where you have hidden, hording your power. And now you have shown yourself in a last attempt to gain followers, an act which will be your downfall.”

“Do not speak to me of such things,” spat Eltuthar disdainfully, looking at Dilmir with contempt.  ‘I have more power than you could possibly dream of, and I will —”

His last words were cut off, however, as Dilmir flung a bolt of energy at him. The bolt, unseen and directed by Dilmir, swerved around Eltuthar at the last moment, and soared upwards into the sky. Eltuthar, however, stumbled backwards as if he had been struck, a surprised look taking his face. Dilmir sent another bolt at him, which similarly swerved and went in a different direction, while Eltuthar stumbled backward again. He got slowly to his feet, looking at Dilmir, a frown coming upon his face.

“Can you not see that you are all deluded?” he asked. “The council wishes to keep power for itself, so it has not agreed with me. Rather, it has turned against me and —”

Eltuthar fell backwards again as Dilmir, at least to the elves, flung him to the ground. “We have heard your tales too many times, Eltuthar,” he said. “You will not lead the elves into ways of dark magic.”

“So be it,” muttered Eltuthar. He rose, and, drawing on magic that Dilmir had given him earlier, cast a wave of flame at him. Dilmir blocked the fire easily, though he was careful to not make it look too easy. He responded with a spell of his own, which he formed with his mind – perfectly harmless, though the elves wouldn’t be able to tell – and fired it at Eltuthar.

Eltuthar tried to block it, or at least appeared to do so, but his efforts were in vain. The spell crashed into the shield surrounding him. The shield, however, was so close to him that it could barely be discerned, and Eltuthar tumbled backwards as though he had been hit. Rising to one knee, he prepared to cast another spell at Dilmir, but at that moment, Alfimir joined in the fray. Dilmir could see that he knew perfectly well what was going on, but would rather finish Eltuthar before dealing with him.

Muttering a curse under his breath, Alfimir flung a black bolt at Eltuthar. The bolt struck the shield and dissolved harmlessly in the air, but once again, Eltuthar reacted as though he had been struck. He placed his hand on the ground, and the vines about him, which had still been waving pleasantly, suddenly began to snake along the ground, half heading for Alfimir, the other half for Dilmir. It was of course Dilmir that controlled the vines, and he found it to be more difficult than he had thought it would be, both attacking and defending himself at the same time. While he was thus preoccupied, Alfimir was engaged in a much more real battle. He blasted the vines away from him soon enough, however, and launched another wave of flame at Eltuthar.

Eltuthar blocked it easily, or seemed to, and responded with a complicated curse, which soared around Alfimir and tried to reach him from behind. Alfimir turned, and blasted the curse out of the air, but as he did so, more vines leapt from the ground beneath him and rooted him firmly to the spot, their tendrils weaving quickly towards his head.

Dilmir, having succeeded in freeing himself of his own vines, turned back to Eltuthar.

Free of Alfimir, who was now almost completely covered in writhing vines, Eltuthar turned to Dilmir and shouted, “You may think you can defeat me, but you cannot. The knowledge I have discovered shall never die. One day, soon, you will see.”

Dilmir cast a curse at Eltuthar, but it bounced off of the shield.

“I will battle you no longer,” said Eltuthar, standing. “My aim is to bring you knowledge, not fight you with it.”

Alfimir burst from the vines at this moment, summoning some evil curse to his aid, just in time to see Eltuthar disappear in a flash of light, using the last of the magic that Dilmir had given him.

A scream of rage pierced the city as Alfimir whirled about, searching for Eltuthar, but Dilmir could not help but smile to himself. Eltuthar’s plan had worked.

Chapter Twenty-Six – The Teachings of Eltuthar

Alfimir tossed aside a charred branch with his boot. It flipped over three times before shattering against a blackened root and dissolving into ash. What had once been a grand building, woven elegantly by Eltuthar so long ago, was now little more than a burnt husk of what it had once been. The center tree was still intact, though Alfimir doubted that much of the wood had survived the flames. Bits of all three floors still clung to it, but most of the rubble lay piled on the first floor, hiding where walls and rooms had once been. Countless scrolls littered the burnt wreckage, their papers turned to ash. Eltuthar’s findings were no more.

Alfimir, however, was not pleased. With the sun’s first appearance, he had hunted for Dilmir or Eltuthar, but had been able to find neither. He had implemented many spells, several of Eltuthar’s own design, but had turned up nothing. His only conclusion could be that they had somehow escaped.

Oddly, Alfimir had a shrewd idea how they might have done so, though he thought it unlikely. The spell took far too much energy for Eltuthar to cast in his current condition, and he had seen Dilmir fall to floor, knocked out, before descending into the flames. The girl could hardly have known of the spell, it was far beyond her or even any of the council.

Alfimir frowned. Perhaps Eltuthar had been stronger than he had thought. Sonlen’s curse had robbed him of all magic; what if, after all this time, its power was beginning to fade? Dilmir, Alfimir was sure he could deal with. If Eltuthar regained his power, however, he dared not consider the consequences.

This was not all that tugged at Alfimir’s mind, however, trying to distract him from his search. He had underestimated Dilmir. There was no way around it; he knew it to be true. And yet, Dilmir had let him live, and he had told him why. Though there had been far too much going on at the time to consider it, now that all was quiet, Alfimir had time to rearrange his thoughts.

Had what he had done been right? Dilmir, ignorant though he may be, had posed a worthy question. What kind of an elf was he? He had slain innocent elves, their only crime being related to Eltuthar, and now being interested in his power, and for what? To protect those at Eld’rin? Somehow, killing elves to protect them didn’t seem logical, though it had at the time. Alfimir frowned. He couldn’t let Dilmir’s words distract him. Besides, the elves he had slain had posed a very real threat. Something had had to be done.

Alfimir forced his thoughts back to his surroundings. He stopped his pacing, frowning at the sky. They weren’t here. “Where then?” muttered Alfimir to himself. Almost absent-mindedly, he put his hand to his eyes, and cast an enchantment of Eltuthar’s. Shimmering lines instantly appeared in the sky, a brilliant white, though some were tainted with other colors. The lines were invisible normally, but the enchantment allowed Alfimir to see them for what they truly were, the lines of magic that floated aimlessly throughout Feylund, until they met something to attach to. None of the lines were pure white, meaning that they had been absorbed and then released, likely in a spell. Hanging over the smoking ruin was a shimmering gathering of them, like a rainbow hued cloak. Alfimir’s eyes, however, sought only one trail.

Carrying taints of green, though its edges were red and orange, was a thick line of magic, extending from the ruin and arcing across the sky to the West. Alfimir followed its trail with his eyes, straight, unwavering, until he saw it land at…

“Surely not Eld’rin,” he muttered. He traced the line again. There was no mistake. The magic left by, as he had suspected, Eltuthar, formed a straight line to Eld’rin. He had doubtless taken Dilmir with him. In one burst of light they would have been there, but the trail of magic would have been left behind in the path they had taken.

Alfimir smiled despite himself, removing the magic from his eyes with sweep of his hand. So Eltuthar’s own spell would be his undoing. How fitting.

Very well, thought Alfimir, clearing his path out of the ruin. If they wish to bring the fight to Eld’rin, I shall oblige. It would do the elves good to see the downfall of their enemy.

He cleared a path out of the ruin, and quickly mounted his horse. Then, urging it down the steep and treacherous path, he made all haste to the elven encampment at the foot of the mountain.

Chapter Twenty-Five – Through Flame and Spell

Dilmir’s eyes opened. For a moment, he wondered what had wakened him, but then, the shapes of two tall elves darkened his doorway. For a very brief moment, Dilmir and the soldiers stared at each other, Dilmir noting the insignia on their chests. The royal army, he thought. So the king is now involved. That boded ill for Eltuthar. The council he might have ignored, but not the king.

In another instant, the two elves rushed him. Dilmir sat bolt upright, and, barely thinking, released a rush of magic at them. The soldiers’ reflexes were impressive: They both conjured their own shields in time to block his. Unfortunately, his contained so much magic that it simply overpowered theirs, and threw them against the far wall, where they slumped, unconscious.

Dilmir stood, surprised at his own calmness. He strode to the door, and looked out. Dark shapes flitted about the open halls, entering and exiting the rooms. Muffled cries and the distant clash of a blade were all that met his ears; it seemed that less than half of the elves knew what was going on. At that moment, he heard the clang of steel on steel, much closer at hand. Another instant, and he realized that the sound came from Ilrin’s room.

He rushed forward, but found himself suddenly confronted by an elf which seemed to sprout from the wall itself, sword raised. Before he could move, Dilmir blasted him out of the way, sending him skidding along the floor to strike the wall with a sickening thud. Dilmir glanced at him, fearful he might have killed him, but another clash from Ilrin’s room made him race through the door.

He was just in time to see one of her opponents, for she had two, lock her blade with his, and then throw his entire weight upon it, forcing her arm backwards painfully so that her sword cut into her own shoulder. She cried out as she was slammed against the wall, and slid down it a ways, her sword arm clearly useless. She dropped her sword, unable to hold it, her eyes wide with fright, as the soldier raised his blade, preparing to strike the finishing blow.

Dilmir stretched out his arm, paying no heed to how much of the boiling magic within him he released, and slammed the two elves away from Ilrin, throwing them against the floor. Vines immediately sprung from the wood, holding the soldiers in place and slowly began to choke them.

“Are you all right?” asked Dilmir, calmly striding towards Ilrin, ignoring the gurgling sounds behind him.

“Yes,” said Ilrin, though her arm was limp and twisted at an odd angle. “Dilmir,” she said, “let them go.”

Dilmir turned, and the vines withered beneath his gaze. Instead, they turned to the elves’ spines, and they fell limp instantly, not dead, but as unconscious as if Dilmir had struck them with an iron pole.

“We can’t stay here,” said Dilmir, raising Ilrin to her feet. “The king’s army arrived sooner than Eltuthar expected. If any of the soldiers recognize you —”

“The king’s army?” interrupted Ilrin. “What are they doing here?”

Dilmir shrugged. “He has better soldiers than the council does. They must have convinced him to exterminate Eltuthar himself. Now follow me and stay close.”

Ilrin nodded, and Dilmir turned, scanning the halls before leading her out.

From the sounds of it, most of the elves had been awoken, and Dilmir knew they were more than a match for even the king’s men. He had to get Ilrin out before they found her, however. He preferred not to think what the results might be if he didn’t.

Eltuthar struck the elf opposite him with the side of his blade. The soldier crumpled instantly, sagging against the wall of the staircase, and then fell. He rolled down several steps before sprawling to a halt. Eltuthar leapt the last few stairs and came upon a terrible scene.

Still plunged in half-darkness, the flashing of blades, most dyed crimson, was all too obvious.  At least they’re awake now, thought Eltuthar wryly. Without a second thought, he flung himself at a nearby soldier, his blade the same hue as his. Before their blades had even met, however, the elf was flung to the floor, where he remained. Glancing behind him, Eltuthar saw Dilmir, palm outstretched, hurrying towards him, Ilrin close behind him.

It dawned on Eltuthar briefly that Ilrin was dressed for travel, and he wondered why for a moment, but soon discarded the thought for a later time as another elf rushed him. Vines sprouted from the floor, pinning the elf to it as Dilmir’s palm glowed a fierce shade of green.

At the same moment, Eltuthar hurtled to the right of Ilrin, blocking the blow of the soldiers who had crept up behind her. Ilrin shied away as the clang of steel reverberated in her ear, and Eltuthar noticed that her sword arm hung limp at her side.

The soldier tried to parry Eltuthar’s blows, but he was no match for his knowledge of the blade. He wasted no time, but disarmed the elf quickly, snaking under his guard and driving his sword between his ribs. The time to not kill had passed.

Dilmir had sensed that fact as well, though he still continued to blast his opponents away from him, rather than use more deadly means. The soldiers simply kept coming, however, and he knew he could not last long against such numbers.

“Eltuthar!” cried Dilmir over the din of the battle that now raged all about them. “We have to get out!”

“Not without them,” Eltuthar yelled back, jerking his head towards the fighting Eth Aniliim. “I owe them that much!”

Dilmir opened his mouth to argue, but whatever he was about to say was interrupted as an elf launched himself at Ilrin. She, in a brilliant display of sudden awareness, neatly sidestepped the barreling elf, allowing him to crash onto the floor, where Eltuthar quickly dispatched him.

“Ilrin,” said Dilmir, turning to her, “I have to at least get you out of here. Eltuthar showed me a way to transport elves from one location to another. It takes a lot of energy, but I can manage. I’ll put you in the middle of Eld’rin. Go home, and act like —”

Unfortunately, the rest of Dilmir’s instructions were lost as he was hit by a spell. In an instant, he had been flung several feet to crash into the wall beyond. Any other elf would have been incapacitated by the spell, but Dilmir leapt up, warding off the effects with an enchantment. He managed to block the spell that flew towards Ilrin barely in time.

“You!” spat a familiar voice, and Dilmir, looking for the source of the spells, saw Alfimir. His hood had fallen back, and his face was livid, giving him the appearance of a vampire. “I knew you would join your ancestor in his dark practices. Now you will burn in the punishment of his doings.” With these words, he raised his hands, and the walls about him burst suddenly into flames.

The entire battle was suddenly illuminated in flickering orange light. Blades flashed in and out, darting here and there, dancing gracefully about each other. Blood sprayed against the walls; dead or unconscious elves were everywhere.

“You cannot win this fight, Alfimir,” said Dilmir, blocking the barrage of flame Alfimir suddenly launched at him. “We possess knowledge that you know nothing of; your efforts here are futile.”

“Are they now?” said Alfimir. “I have knowledge that not even Sonlen knew of.” As if to demonstrate it, the walls about him suddenly writhed with vines, seeking to assail Dilmir. He blasted them out of the way easily, but was unnerved nonetheless. No one but an Eth Aniliim could have done that that fast. Alfimir, seeing Dilmir’s hesitation, sent a lowly curse under Dilmir’s shield to strike Ilrin. She fell with a cry of pain as the curse struck her, but Dilmir undid it with a flick of his hand.

“Your argument is with me, fiend!” he shouted at Alfimir as three elves beset Eltuthar behind him and he was forced to stumble forwards. “I would advise you to direct your spells with more precision.”

Alfimir’s only reply was to grin wickedly. “Anything to defeat you, Dark Elf,” he spat. Another section of the wall burst into flames.

Dilmir looked about himself as another elf joined the duel against Eltuthar. He was running out of options.

“Dilmir!” cried Eltuthar, as a stray blow sliced his arm, “your magic can do things you never comprehended! Think no longer of spells or enchantments, think of what is about you! You are more powerful than Alfimir in every way!”

Dilmir turned, flicking Alfimir’s spell out of the way as he did so. Eltuthar was right. He would never beat Alfimir if he continued to use spells. Alfimir, however, would not give him time to think on his situation. He fired another spell at Ilrin, this time, coated in a deadly poison.

Everything froze for Dilmir. How dare Alfimir attack another to provoke him. It was the lowest of strategies. Unfortunately, it usually worked.

His anger blowing out of him like pent up steam, he flung a ball of pure energy at Alfimir, blocking his pitiful spell out of the way as he did so. Alfimir was momentarily lit up in its glow, his smile turned to a grimace of fright, and then he was flung into the wall. He did not slump down it, but went half way through it, where he remained, imbedded in the wood. Vines sprung immediately from the walls and bound him in place.

Dilmir, still commanding the vines, walked slowly towards him, his eyes burning with hate. Many elves rushed at him, and many spells sought him out, but all were deflected by an impenetrable wall of energy about him. He stopped inches from where Alfimir hung, helpless.

For a brief moment, they stared at each other. And then, Dilmir released Alfimir. “You tried to kill my line,” he said, between gritted teeth, “and I asked you in the forest what kind of an elf you were. But I will not slay you, though you deserve it a thousand times over, or you would ask the same of me.”

“And who are you then?” asked Alfimir from the floor, a half sneer upon his face.

Dilmir looked down on him. “I am Eltuthar’s descendant, and his heir,” he said.

The two of them stared at each other for nearly five seconds, until Ilrin screamed.

Dilmir whirled about, just in time to see Eltuthar dive in front of her, parrying the blow that had been aimed at her heart.

“I will not kill you, Alfimir,” said Dilmir, turning to him for a last fleeting glance, “but never will I forget what you have done here.”

A grin slowly spread across Alfimir’s face. “I’ve done nothing yet,” he breathed.

The familiar words broke Dilmir’s focus. The next second, Alfimir had conjured a sword from the air, and in one deft movement, sliced it towards him.

The sword met with another with a resounding clash. “No,” said Ilrin, her eyes venomous, holding her sword in her left hand, locking it with Alfimir’s.

A scream of pure rage tore from Alfimir’s lips. He whirled the sword, disarming Ilrin easily, and drove the blade towards her instead. His sword never made it another inch.

With a blast from his palm, Dilmir sent him falling into his own flames. He would not kill him, but there was no reason he couldn’t make it a very real possibility.

For a moment, it appeared as though Alfimir would not rise. But then, somehow unharmed, he stepped from the fire, and more of the walls, including the floor, burst into flames.

Ilrin let out a cry and backed away from the flames that licked eagerly at her feet, Dilmir with her. Alfimir smiled maliciously at them as they retreated. “You may be powerful, Dilmir,” he said, “but you aren’t Eltuthar.” As if in reply to this, Eltuthar himself slew all six of his opponents with one deft stroke and turned to face Alfimir, blood streaming from his arm and a fresh cut on his head.

“No,” he said, looking at Alfimir with hate, “I am.”

In another moment, Alfimir had once again been flung into the wall. The flames, however, resisted even Eltuthar’s efforts. The three of them continued to back up, until they were trapped in a corner. Here, flames around, behind, and above them, they huddled, the space they had left being slowly constricted. The entire building, save for where they stood, was consumed.

Dilmir saw, helpless through the enchanted fire, for it would not be doused, Alfimir rise and slay the last of the Eth Aniliim that remained. Knowing that he had little time, he turned to Ilrin. Silently, he produced a shield about her that would protect her from physical harm. The spell was complicated and difficult to form, but he finished it. He then turned to Eltuthar, and did the same to him. As he prepared to cast the same spell on himself, however, a branch, finally weakened too far by the fire, snapped and fell, striking him on the head. Dilmir fell silently, oblivious to Ilrin’s cry. He struck the floor, and it, weakened by the fire as well, crumbled under his sudden weight. The three of them fell through the flames to the raging story below, rubble falling both beneath and above them.

A cloud of smoke and flame rose from where Dilmir, Ilrin, and Eltuthar fell. Ilrin, shaken, but otherwise unharmed due to Dilmir’s enchantment, rose from where she had landed, and quickly made her way to the pile of rubble under which she knew Dilmir lay. Eltuthar, after a moment, threw aside the large piece of wood that had fallen on top of him, pinning him down, and joined Ilrin.

Above them, the sounds of the raging fire and the last of the battling elves could be heard. About them, flames spiraled upwards, and pieces of debris fell from the ceiling at an alarming rate. Ilrin, however, saw or heard none of this.

The only thing that penetrated her mind was Dilmir’s face, which was revealed as Eltuthar flung aside the piece of burning wood that had covered him. He was alive, she could see that much, though unconscious. An ugly cut was on his head, blood pouring from it freely, its edges black from the fire. Several burns marked him elsewhere, but Ilrin merely sighed with relief. He was alive. She was brought back to her senses, however, as more of the ceiling caved in and fell, bringing several elves with it. They were buried under the debris, and moved no more.

As she watched, several bolts of flame jetted across the burning room and imbedded themselves in the wall, adding their fire to that already burning. Confused, Ilrin turned to see several mages, their insignias showing them to be of the council’s army, standing in the burning antechamber, firing burning bolts at random to make sure no elves escaped.

Ilrin knew they could not see here, for the darkness and the flickering flames conspired together to make it impossible to tell what was moving and what wasn’t. Shadows danced repeatedly over Ilrin’s face, distorting its shape to any that might see her, and for this, she was grateful.

Ilrin’s thinking was interrupted as a flame fired from one of the mages spiraled directly towards her. Too surprised to act, she stumbled backwards, tripped and fell, but the flame was harmlessly absorbed before her eyes by the shield that Dilmir had cast. In that moment, two things were made clear to Ilrin.

First, Dilmir and Eltuthar had to escape now, before it was too late. There was no time to save the others; from the looks of it, the elves were burning them along with their own, something unheard of in Elvish warfare. The second thing was not quite as apparent as the first, but Ilrin knew she had to do it all the same.

“Get him out of here,” she whispered to Eltuthar as more flame flew above her head. “Dilmir told me he could transport an elf to a different location, can you do the same to yourself and him?”

Eltuthar hesitated, looking at Dilmir. He turned steely eyes to Ilrin and nodded.

“Then I’ll buy you some time,” said Ilrin, rising. Before Eltuthar had a chance to argue, she was gone.

She quickly raced through the flames and rubble, which was no easy matter, ducking fireballs as they whizzed past her. Two struck her, but both were absorbed by Dilmir’s shield. Soon, blackened, her face nearly unrecognizable, which was fortunate, she stood before the antechamber, looking directly into the cold eyes of Alfimir.

The mages behind him would have fired on her directly, save for the fact that Alfimir did not. To them she was a Dark Elf. Only Alfimir knew who she was. She leaned close to him, and whispered so that only he could hear, “Let me pass and return to Eld’rin, or I will tell all exactly what kind of power you possess.”

Alfimir’s face hardened as he looked at her, a deep hatred flickering in his eyes, reflected in the flames before him. He knew she meant every word she said, for he had told her that he possessed knowledge that not even Sonlen knew of. If she told anyone, it would eventually reach the Council or the king, and then he would be banished for real. He stiffly motioned her behind him, and she slipped into the shadows. Before any of the other elves could see her, she slipped down the path and retrieved her horse. In another moment, she was galloping down the trail, headed for the dark forest, and Eld’rin.

Meanwhile, Eltuthar had been busy. He usually refrained from casting spells, especially difficult ones, but he had no choice. He knew that Sonlen’s curse would fight him the whole way, but he stood nonetheless, holding Dilmir upright, and began to pull energy from the flames. They flickered and waved towards him, but he did not stop. The curse within his blood clawed at his insides, tearing at his mind. The pain was terrible, but still Eltuthar sucked the energy, for he would need it all. He grimaced to himself as he did so, not out of pain, but because he had yet to use magic, when the pain would truly begin.

And then, in one glorious burst of dazzling light, he threw his hand aloft, surging the energy into both himself and Dilmir, and speeding them away from the flames, the cliff, the forest itself, for there was only one place he knew they could go to in safety now…

Chapter Twenty-Four – Assault on the Mountain

It was awhile before the mountain could be seen fully through the trees. The sky was black; no moon lent its light to the scene. The only reason Alfimir could see the outline of the mountain was because it was a deeper black than the star-strewn sky overhead. That, and the fact that he knew where it was, for he had been there before, long ago.

Alfimir sat atop his horse now, observing the mountain silently. A thin sword hung at his hip, and a dark cloak was draped over him, its hood pulled over his head, throwing his pale features into shadow. His eyes glinted as he gazed at where he knew the path lay, now invisible in the darkness.

He had walked on that path once, eager like those around him to learn what Eltuthar had found. That is, at least until he had discovered the truth. Whatever the council might think, he knew Eltuthar the Black was not the power-hungry fiend they portrayed him as. He genuinely believed he would help the elves by showing them what they were capable of, but Alfimir knew better what would follow. There was only one thing that great power ever brought for sure: Trouble. It may come disguised, or it may come with many blessings, but it was always there, always waiting to be unleashed. And Alfimir feared what would happen if the elves gained all that Eltuthar had found.

Alfimir had done deeds that he regretted. He had not wanted to hunt down Eltuthar’s line like common animals, he had not wanted to slay them all without question, but he had had to. What he had done, he had done not for himself, but for the good of his people. The council had been confused why he had attacked Dilmir right outside the main gates, in plain view. He was to have provoked him into action, not attacked him himself. But Alfimir knew that time had been of the essence then, as it was now. He knew that sooner or later, Dilmir’s control over his power would break, and he might become Eltuthar all over again, discovering things about magic that no elf should know, at least not yet.

Alfimir sighed. His horse pawed the ground nervously. If he had slain Dilmir that night, however detestable the job might have been, the mess that he was now in would never have arisen. The last of Eltuthar’s line would have been gone.

But Dilmir had somehow escaped. And now, he was with Eltuthar, learning forbidden secrets, and the council had been forced to act. A shadow of a smile flickered for a moment on Alfimir’s face. The council may be delusional and over-reactive, but they had their uses. They were the reason Alfimir now found himself at the head of their army. Banished or not, they knew, or thought they knew, where his loyalties lay. Besides, amongst all of the soldiers, he was the only one who had been this way before.

Alfimir turned his horse behind him. The small force watching him from their own steeds had been surprisingly willing to accept his command. He sighed again, knowing what must be done. He signaled to the elves to dismount. They did so, their horses snorting. The horses had never been this far into the forest, and the lack of elven-tamed trees was beginning to frighten them. With murmurs of “Asir im asriim,” the soldiers sent them cantering back through the woods, heading for the nearest elven encampment. They would surely be devoured by wolves if they stayed here. Alfimir turned to the elves. The time had come.

“I need not tell you why we are here,” he said, raising his voice so that the entire company might hear him, “or offer any incentive to complete the task that must be done. You know what resides at the top of this rock above us; you know what they can do. Kill them all. Kill them all, for none can escape. Do your duty.”

Alfimir lowered his voice somewhat and continued. “Prior to setting out, each and every one of you had an enchantment placed on him. This magic is foreign, Eltuthar’s brand, but very precise. It will shield you from their sight, for without it, they would know of our presence the moment we set foot upon the mountain. Be clear that this enchantment will not make you invisible, only shield you from magical detection.

“Be silent in your approach, and enter quietly. I wish to spill no more blood than necessary. If Eltuthar or his followers are woken, fighting will likely break out – something which I wish to avoid. These elves are more powerful than you know.”

The soldiers nodded, a few of them drawing their swords.

“You can put those away,” said Alfimir, noting this. “The path is long, and I would not have your blades covered with perspiration before we get there.”

After noting that all was in order, he nodded and motioned them forward. The elves moved silently, single file, into the small clearing. Alfimir raised his hand, silencing the guard at the foot of the path, and he was quickly dispatched by the nearest soldier’s blade. Then, one by one, the elves crept up the steep climb, circling the mountain, their breath baited.

It was, as Alfimir had said, a long path. Many of the elves were breathing heavily before Eltuthar’s abode came into sight. Alfimir raised his hand, scanning the ledge over which the plateau high above looked. Sure enough, a lone guard stood there, his eyes cast over the forest, in the direction of Eld’rin. Alfimir pointed him out to an archer, who, taking careful aim, dropped him silently with an arrow imbedded in his throat. The party moved on.

At the gate, two guards stood vigilant. Alfimir silenced them both, then, before they could act, the archer felled them with two swift shafts. Stealthily, the elves crept to the door. Here, Alfimir paused. What if his entrance alerted those within? Thinking quickly, he cast the same enchantment on the door, silencing it, and then opened it with a touch of his palm. No sound was heard, and one by one, the elves crept into the building.

Ilrin glanced out of her window. A guard stood on the grassy plateau, silently surveying the forest. She turned and paced the length of her room, her stomach rumbling uncomfortably. She had eaten only once all day. She had traveled all of the previous night and most of the morning, and had only woken from her rest at Arath Imil an hour before sundown. Eltuthar had pressed a large dinner upon her, but she was still hungry from her lack of other meals. However, it was not hunger that was on her mind.

The full meaning of what she was doing was beginning to sink in. She was betraying Eld’rin and its king; she was actually committing an act of treason. No one who knew her would believe it of her, she knew, but she doubted the council would think twice about banishing her if they knew where she was. Or, perhaps more likely, they would hold her, and question her about Eltuthar. She shivered, though not entirely from the cold. She didn’t care much for what she had heard of their interrogation methods.

She had to go back to Eld’rin, though. Her parents would be worried by now. She doubted she could even think up a plausible excuse for her absence. She had done her duty, however, she had warned Eltuthar. She couldn’t go with him when he tried to escape the elves, as she was sure he would do, regardless of whether or not Dilmir went with him. Eld’rin was her home, she belonged there.

She paced back to the window, absently noting the guard still standing there, unmoved. Then a dreadful thought came to her. What if Eltuthar meant to stay, meant to defend his home, to fight the elves? He had Dilmir now, and if appearances meant anything, he was just as powerful as Eltuthar had been at his age. But would he fight who he had grown up with?

Ilrin pondered, turning away from the window. No one at Eld’rin had ever treated him kindly; he owed them very little, if anything. She was the only friend he had there. And then an even worse thought occurred to her. What would she do? If she were here when the elves attacked, they would find her, and if they didn’t kill her as a Dark Elf, surely they would keep her locked somewhere where they could watch her. And if she left before they came? What then? Dilmir may be powerful, but she doubted not that they could still easily kill him. She couldn’t let that happen, yet if she tried to protect him, they would turn on both of them. She closed her eyes and pressed her hands to her head. The situation was hopelessly knotted.

After a moment, she came to a decision. Dilmir was powerful. Doubtless, Eltuthar knew what he was capable of more than she did, he would know if he could survive an attack or if they should flee. She hoped he did not over-estimate him, because it might mean his death if he did.

Moving quickly and quietly, she grabbed up her cloak, sword, bow, and quiver. All of her weapons had been returned to her room while she slept, for which she was thankful. She did not much fancy trying to find them in the dark.

She sighed, and threw the cloak over her, securing her bow over it, and making sure the hilt of her sword was unobstructed. Dilmir would understand why she had to flee, she was sure. She turned for a last look out the window, and was about to leave her room, when something caught her attention. The guard no longer stood vigilant. He lay, sprawled face first on the ground, a black arrow protruding from his neck.

They’re already here, thought Ilrin with horror.

“Stay quiet,” hissed Alfimir as the elves filed past him. “And make sure those you find do likewise.”

Only a faint green glow light the insides of the living walls, everything else was shrouded in shadows. The ghostly green lights flickered on the sharply defined roots of the many trees, casting great wells of darkness against the center tree, which Alfimir knew led to the higher levels.

He looked about the place with interest. It had been years since he had seen it, and it had been full of young elves then. Now, with it so empty and quiet, it seemed unreal, out of place. He raised a hand to touch the wall, but quickly drew away as a soldier passed by. Not many knew that he had once been captivated by Eltuthar’s powers, and it would not do for them to find out now.

No elves were to be found in any of the rooms, though the archer dragged the elf he had shot from the path onto the balcony to shield him from the windows above. Alfimir nodded and pointed towards the great tree. One by one, the elves, blades drawn now, crept up the living stairs, their feet making nary a sound.

The stairs carried on to a third level, but the elves left at the second. Five rooms, larger than those below, were here, one in each corner, and one which Alfimir had not seen before, planted suspiciously in the middle of the floor. He tried to open it, but could not. Glancing about, he saw a door set against a far wall. He motioned an elf towards it, as the rest hastened to the third level, where the elves were surely sleeping. Satisfied that all would be over soon, Alfimir crept silently back down the stairs.

Moving with an odd eagerness that surprised even him, he made his way to what he had noted earlier as the library. It would be awkward, to say the least, if any elf were to find him here, but there was nothing else stopping him from discovering what other dark secrets Eltuthar had uncovered, if only to stop the elves from finding them themselves.

This door was different. The elf Alfimir had sent to investigate it paused, puzzled. He placed his hand again on the door, as he had with all the others, but nothing happened. Reaching for the steady flow of magic, he whispered the words, “Fiser’terenim, ekcer.” After a short pause, the tendrils of the door began to unweave themselves and parted to let him in. He stepped across the threshold. Perhaps this was a vault where Eltuthar kept his secrets. There were only so many reasons the door would have to be opened by magic.

However, all that he saw in the darkness was the outline of a long bed with a sleeping elf on it. Disappointed that nothing more was in the room, he made his way forward, and raised his sword, ready to strike the elves through the heart.

In an instant, he had been knocked to the ground and relieved of his sword. In another moment, the hilt of the blade crashed against his head, and he fell to the floor, unconscious.

Eltuthar released the sword and grabbed it again by the hilt. His enchantments on the door had worked perfectly, waking him when they were opened by force. He had not expected the elves to come so soon. He had hoped to get his followers out before it happened, but it was too late for that now. He stepped over the elf’s lifeless body, sword held ready, and crossed the deserted floor to the center tree. Here, he placed his hand on the rough bark. In a moment, the wood glowed green beneath his palm, and then faded. Eltuthar grimaced to himself as he turned into the tree, stealthily climbing the steps. His elves would waken any moment.

She could stay here no longer. Ilrin had to get out before the elves found her here. She faltered as she reached for the door though. What about Dilmir? She paused, her mind frozen in an eternal battle, but all thought ceased as she heard muffled sounds outside her door. The sounds were quiet, as if their owners were trying to remain undetected. She tried to identify them, but could not think what they could be. A faint swishing, a soft thud; that was all she heard. And then it came to her. The council’s army was right outside her door.

She froze, her heart beating faster and faster in the darkness. She had turned off the lights in preparation of leaving, as they seemed to obey her slightest thought. She heard the door next to hers open with a soft rustle. Quietly, she pressed her ear to the wall. At first, she heard nothing, but then a dull crack and a muffled cry came to her. She drew back, her hand going to the hilt of her sword. She drew it, even as her own door glowed faintly as it was touched outside by an elf. Slowly, it began to unfurl, revealing the waiting dark edge of a blade. Something sinister dripped from its tip. Ilrin shrank back against the wall, hoping the darkness would hide her. She was skilled with the blade, it was true, but if this was the council’s army, they were likely trained soldiers, proficient in both swordsmanship and magic. Ilrin had her doubts about winning a duel with one of them.

Her door fully unfurled, and the blade entered her room, seeking towards the shadows, quickly followed by an elf. Ilrin saw him glance towards her bed, and could almost hear him noting that it had been slept in recently.

She dared not move. She was pressed against the same wall as the door was set in to, and she was so close to the elf that she could have touched him. If she moved now, he would surely sense it. Just as she reached this conclusion, he turned, and saw her.

Chapter Twenty-Three – The Nature of Magic

Eltuthar stood, facing the setting sun, his lined face struck by its bright rays. His eyes bored into its brilliance, alive and fierce, in contrast with the rest of his visage. His muscular arms were folded across his chest, and he stood with his feet planted slightly apart. It seemed as if a storm, had there been one, would surely abate beneath his powerful posture.

Dilmir watched him silently. He once again wore the black leather of the Eth Aniliim, though he carried only his one sword, strapped to his waist. As he watched Eltuthar, Dilmir wondered. The council had driven him away, and even attacked him, and still he sought only to give them the power he possessed. Eltuthar must be, surely, a special kind of elf, to go so far, against such odds.

Eltuthar turned, blocking out the sun with his back, so that a glowing light surrounded him as his eyes turned upon Dilmir. They scrutinized him for a moment, taking in his appearance, and then darted upwards, past him, to the columned balcony behind. “Come, Ilrin,” he said.

Ilrin did not move at first. She stood, closer to one column than the other, half in the shadows. Her gaze darted over the scene, her mouth forming a half frown. Her eyes drifted to Dilmir, then to Eltuthar, and then came back to rest on Dilmir. Slowly, not removing her gaze from Eltuthar, to which she glanced back, she descended the smooth steps and stood on the grass, her feet barely leaving indentations in the thin leaves.

As Dilmir watched her, he could tell by her posture alone that she was not comfortable. She was relaxed, but her arms and legs remained ever so slightly bent, as if she were ready to spring away at any moment. Though her face was veiled to Eltuthar, Dilmir could tell she distrusted him.

“I should be going back,” she said, her eyes darting between Eltuthar and Dilmir, though it was to the former that she spoke. “My parents will have already begun to worry.”

“I will give you my fastest horse in the morning,” said Eltuthar, stepping towards her. “But even he would be caught in the Great Forest when night fell if you departed now. I would not have you hunted down by wolves.”

Ilrin nodded, giving a smile that only Dilmir knew to be forced. He could see that she would much rather leave anyway. She did not fear Eltuthar, he knew that much; rather she feared what he could do. The power that Eltuthar had wielded before Sonlen defeated him was nearly beyond comprehension to the elves of Eld’rin. It existed only as a wordless force powerful enough to eradicate any opposition against it.

Eltuthar turned and faced Dilmir, though he still spoke to Ilrin. “The hour is late, Ilrin,” he said. “I would not send you to traverse the entirety of the wolves’ territory at such a time.” He glanced at her for a moment, a look which she returned, though her expression was impossible to fathom.

“Doubtless you have heard many tales of me,” said Eltuthar in a quieter voice.

Ilrin nodded, her eyes briefly darting to Dilmir and then back.

“I am sure many of them were exaggerations, but some were likely true. You have seen what I have shown Dilmir. My power is not fictitious.”

He watched Ilrin intently as he continued, choosing his words carefully. “Imagine trying to learn the history of the elves with no previous idea of Feylund, its culture, or its peoples. You would be lost, learning facts without a basis with which to build on. If you are to study a thing, you must understand its full nature.

“So it is with magic. I have discovered the true ways of the power of Feylund, and I will share them with you, if you let me. You have already seen what I have shown Dilmir, and I can show you the same. You can learn how to accomplish every task set before you with a blade of grass, how to alter the workings of any plant, and how to heal a grievous wound in Eld’rin from here. Let me show you the many secrets magic holds.”

Ilrin looked at Eltuthar for a long while, doubt evident in her eyes, and then she turned to Dilmir, silently asking a question.

Dilmir gave an almost imperceptible nod.

“Very well,” said Ilrin, turning back to Eltuthar. “Show me what it is you speak of – I will not deny that it interests me – but I ride in the morning.”

Eltuthar nodded solemnly. “I will see it carried out,” he promised.

As he spoke, the sun smote the horizon, sending horizontal rays across the trees of the forest far below, and casting the grassy plateau upon which they stood in a golden light. Ilrin had arrived near midday, but had woken from her respite too late to journey back to Eld’rin. Instead, Eltuthar had brought her out to watch as he taught Dilmir new ways of magic.

“Let me ask you,” said Eltuthar, turning to face her, “what is the rule of using magic?”

Ilrin looked at him for a moment before replying. “That you can only enchant that which lives,” she said.

Eltuthar nodded. “Yes, but there is more. How does magic adhere to living things?”

Ilrin frowned. “That is its nature,” she said.

Eltuthar smiled, but shook his head. “No,” he said, “magic adheres to only one thing: energy. The two are merely different facets of the same thing, expressed separately. All living things must have energy, for without it they would die, and therefore, magic can dwell within life. Magic can exist by itself, of course, as unbound magic proves, but it will attach itself to energy if the pull is strong enough. What we enchant: trees, animals, grass – all are merely containers for the true target of magic: energy.”

Ilrin remained frowning at him. “Why have the other elves not discovered this?” she asked.

Eltuthar pondered before replying. “I often find,” he said, “that the things we overlook the most are the ones most obvious to us; that which we are the most used to. If we assume something to simply be, we rarely stop to consider why it is, or if there is more to it than we need know. Such is the way with magic.”

Ilrin continued to look at him, but remained silent. Eltuthar, taking her silence as permission to continue, went on. “Since magic is naturally absorbed by energy, and thus life, the older a being is, the more magic he will have. I have found this to be true repeatedly within the forest. All animals and plants obey this one rule. The only exception is the elves.

“Before Sonlen… dealt with me, I had far more magic than any other single elf. I didn’t know it at the time, but I remember it now in my studies. The Curse that Sonlen gave me, in addition to its other effects, drained my magic from me, a painful process, for he was rending the energy within me in two.

“Long have I searched for that Curse that he bound to me, that which alters me to refuse magic. If I were ever to find it, I would isolate it, and form an enchantment to reverse its effects. I would then use that spell on all elves, not just myself.

“For a reason I know not, elves have been denied the ability to gather as much magic as they should. When they become filled to a certain amount, they can absorb no more. Somehow, somewhere, a restriction has been placed on them, keeping their power limited. This Curse resides even with you, Ilrin.”

Ilrin quickly blanked her face before she betrayed herself, but her surprise could not be fully hidden. Eltuthar’s words surprised Dilmir as well, for he had not heard them until now.

“Indeed,” continued Eltuthar, “This Curse is within all elves, all, that is, except for me and Dilmir. And as Sonlen saw fit to bestow upon me an amplified version of the Curse, Dilmir is the most powerful elf in all of Feylund.”

This, Dilmir had definitely not been expecting. He knew he possessed some strange power, but he had always assumed that Alfimir at least could easily beat him, as had indeed happened.

Ilrin glanced at him long enough to see his startled face, and then turned back to Eltuthar. “Why did you not possess this… this Curse, then?” she asked.

“I know not,” said Eltuthar simply. “If I did know, my search would surely be made easier, but the answer eludes me like the moon on a cloudy night. Long have I searched for a release from this Curse, as much for the other elves as for myself, but all in vain.”

“If you cannot lift the Curse, then,” said Ilrin slowly, “how can you still be able to practice such great power?”

Eltuthar smiled briefly. “In my studies,” he said, “I discovered many truths of magic, one of which is its affinity to energy, as I told you. That alone allows me to still influence the magic about me, though I can absorb none myself. That makes casting spells for me an arduous process, limited even more by Sonlen’s curse, which strives to stop my use of magic, and pains me if I do not comply.

“Since magic is so closely linked to energy, it is possible to control one with the other, without even casting a spell. All one need do is reach out and immerse themselves in the magic, exerting their will over it to bend it to their desire. Even you can do this, with practice. Dilmir will always be faster than you, and able to control more magic, but you can work the same changes that he would, if perhaps on a smaller scale.

“For example, this morning you saw Dilmir summon, control, and then dismiss a vast thunderstorm. He does this out of sheer force of magic, otherwise it may take as much as a year to perfect the talent, and even then, the result would be but a single cloud, though no less powerful. You, too, can do this.”

Ilrin looked at him doubtfully.

“Look at the floor of Arath Imil,” said Eltuthar, gesturing to the building before him. When I formed it, I wrought a great many flowing patterns into its floors. Such work is of the most precise kind, and likely only an archmage of old would have been able to replicate such a thing. However, all I needed to do was stretch forth my magic, and bend the wood to my will.

“With the knowledge that I have discovered, the need for spells and enchantments passes into the void. You no longer need to form magic within yourself to work a change; such methods can be imprecise and tedious. All you need do is simply influence the magic itself. That is the only power that I possess.”

Ilrin looked at Eltuthar thoughtfully as he finished, though Dilmir thought some of her distrust had deserted her face while he spoke. Finally, she said, in musing tones, “I always thought of your power as a great secret of magic, but it always came to me used in a destructive way. You are right though,” she added, “I see now that your magic can be used for far greater deeds. With it you could work wonders for the other elves.”

Eltuthar looked at her for a moment with a curious expression upon his face, until it cracked into a wide grin. “Of all the elves I showed my power to,” he said, “you are the first to speak of using it for others, and not on them. I believe you would at last prove the council wrong if I could teach you, for no war or misery would spring from your actions.”

Ilrin appeared momentarily taken aback by Eltuthar’s words, though pleased.

“I wish I could show you more of my discoveries,” said Eltuthar, “for each is as great as the next, but I know you must soon return to your life in Eld’rin. Indeed, I believe we must all leave Arath Imil before the council’s army arrives, as I have no desire to fight them again.”

Ilrin’s smile faded at Eltuthar’s mention of the dire circumstances that had brought her here. “Where will you go?” she asked. “The council will still continue to hunt you.”

Eltuthar smiled at her. “That I could not tell you,” he said. “Not for lack of trust, for I would tell you if I could, but I myself do not know. North, South, perhaps even West, any direction but East, where Eld’rin lies. Perhaps it would be good to rid myself from the lives of others for a time.”

“Will Dilmir go with you?” asked Ilrin, glancing quickly at Dilmir as she asked. Dilmir had the sudden impression that she had wanted to ask this for a long time.

Eltuthar cocked his head, watching Dilmir. “What say you?” he said to him. “You are young yet, and still have much to learn at Eld’rin. I could of course teach you myself, but my training is also incomplete, you must remember. Still, you have little place to go since you have been banished, save for perhaps the dwarves. Would you flee the council with me?”

Dilmir’s immediate reply would have been ‘yes,’ but his eyes flicked of their own accord to Ilrin, who was watching him, and his answer died on his tongue. “I do not see that I have much of a choice,” he said, “but I would hate to be parted from those that I’ve known all my life.”

Eltuthar smiled as the sun slipped below the horizon, bathing everything in a reddish orange glow which quickly began to fade to utter blackness. “You would see Eld’rin again,” he assured Dilmir. “My Eth Aniliim go there nearly every day now. Still, you would doubtless need to use caution. If the council captured Felnir, they wouldn’t hesitate to try to capture you. Not that they would succeed,” he added as an afterthought.

“But come,” he said, stirring himself and turning towards Arath Imil. “I would not have Ilrin freeze while my hospitality goes lacking. It gets exceedingly cold this high up.” With those words, he ushered Ilrin and Dilmir across the grass, even as the last vestiges of light left the mountain, leaving it a block a chiseled shadows.

Chapter Twenty-Two – The Work of Eltuthar

The doors opened into a small room, little more than an antechamber. Its corners were trees, thicker than the Dark Elf that led Ilrin was around, standing tall and straight. The walls were not made of vines, but of wood, grown to flow seamlessly from one tree to the next. The floor upon which they walked was grown into a curious pattern, as if to suggest flowing water. As Ilrin looked at it, she was almost sure it could move. The small room was lit with a soft green glow, and, searching for the source of the light, Ilrin found her gaze drawn to the trees in the corners. Rising along them in a spiraling pattern were thin leaves, which seemed to glow with light.

Ilrin had never seen such marvelous enchanting. She took a step closer to one of the trees, intending to examine a leaf closer, but the Dark Elf moved swiftly across the room, to the far doors, and she hastened to follow.

As the doors were opened, Ilrin’s eyes widened in surprise. She had expected Eltuthar’s sanctuary to be a place shrouded in darkness, full of black magic and evil weapons. What met her eyes was as far from that as water is from wood. The flowing pattern of the floor continued, leading her eyes to a gigantic tree, its large roots, which splayed out from it for several feet, finally spreading and melting seamlessly into the floor. The tree’s trunk was wide enough for five elves to easily stand in, if not more. The same curious glowing leaves dotted its bark, lending their light to the scene.

The floor was open, with the tree in the center. Only four rooms, one in each corner, stood upon it. More, smaller trees flowed from the corners of the rooms, so that nowhere was there a sharp angle. Everything flowed smoothly into everything else, and very few exactly straight lines were to be seen.

Ilrin had stopped in wonder, gazing at the ceiling, which vaulted high overhead, flowing as did the floor, though with a different pattern, and was surprised when she looked down to see the Dark Elf nearly half way across the room. She hastened to catch up, but not before the door to the closest room opened, and another elf came out.

Ilrin had never seen him before. Like Ilrin’s guide, he wore the black leather of Eltuthar, but his face was kind and young. He stared at Ilrin for a moment, and then, recollecting himself, passed her, heading for the tree. Ilrin followed him at a distance, since he went in the same direction as her guide, and saw that one side of the tree was open to reveal a vast winding staircase within. More of the glowing leaves dotted the inside of the trunk.

As the elf rose out of sight, Ilrin turned her attention back to her guide. Surprisingly, she found him smiling at her.

“You find Eltuthar’s work interesting?” he said. It was more of a statement than a question.

Ilrin nodded. Any fear she had felt of Eltuthar and his Dark Elves was rapidly slipping away in this place. Surely Eltuthar, whom she had been taught was power-obsessed and full of dark magic, could not have done this.

As if he had read her thoughts, the Dark Elf said, “Eltuthar formed this place when he was first exiled from Eld’rin. For him, it was a simple matter. But come. If you bring word from Felnir, you must see him immediately.”

Felnir’s name released Ilrin’s mind from the spell of the building. She looked back down at the Dark Elf and nodded.

The Dark Elf, in reply, took a few short steps to the wall, and pulled open a pair of double-doors which rested there, growing from two trees like everything else. They slid open silently.

Instantly, the peace and quiet of the interior of the building was shattered. Wind ripped through the doors, and a fierce howling, as of a great storm, met Ilrin’s ears. Through the door, she could see a lone figure with his back to her, his hands outstretched to what seemed to be a vast expanse of dark cloud.

Wondering, trying to shield her face from the biting wind, she walked slowly forward. She couldn’t see properly until she had walked through the doors onto the balcony that expanded out from it. The Dark Elf exited after her, and closed the door.

Ilrin had seen several astonishing things in the past two weeks, quite enough for a long while, but what she saw now was greater than any of them.

All feeling seemed to leave her, along with all thought. The only thing that existed, both inside and out, was what she saw and heard. Her jaw dropped.

Before her spread the small plateau she had seen from the path. Its grassy expanse was perfectly flat, and ringed by large stones. The side opposite her was devoid of obstructions, and offered an incredible view of the Great Forest, facing in the direction of Eld’rin, which was hidden from view by the trees.

This sight, alone, would have been quite breathtaking; however, it was not what drew Ilrin’s eyes. Neither were the two elves that stood before her, both facing the forest, one with his arms outstretched, the other watching.

What she saw was the cloud. Black and billowing, the thickest storm cloud she had ever seen stretched from end to end of the Great Forest, quite possibly covering well over half of it. Thunder rumbled within it, and lightning, strangely red, leapt from its spires and columns. Though the black cloud itself was moving, churning tumultuously, though in a mesmerizing sort of way, its borders remained fixed. It neither grew nor shrank. It was as if something held it in place, shaping its every action. Ilrin couldn’t understand where the cloud had come from; it had been perfectly clear as she ascended the path.

And then her eyes fell on the two elves before her. Neither had seen her, but still stood, surveying the cloud. Neither seemed likely to be Eltuthar. One was tall and straight, but he wore a sweeping robe which billowed and snapped in the deafening wind. He, however, was merely observing the storm. The other elf was far too young to be Eltuthar. Ilrin could tell, though she couldn’t see his face, that he must be about her age. His hands were outstretched to the heavens, as though he were casting a great spell. For a moment, Ilrin thought that he must be controlling the storm, but then discarded the idea as preposterous. None but Eltuthar could do such a deed.

“Ael,” called the Dark Elf from Ilrin’s side, making her jump. His voice was strangely audible through the raging wind, and the tall elf turned, his gaze coming upon Ilrin instantly.

His face, Ilrin saw, was lined, but kind, though at the moment it looked at her with a frown. His robes were black, with a tinge of green, though no red symbol was upon his chest. His hair was a steely shade of gray, and swept back from his head almost to his shoulders. He looked at Ilrin with a questioning glance.

The Dark Elf stepped from the balcony and whispered in the elf’s ear. As he did so, the elf’s thick eyebrows rose imperceptibly. Behind him, the storm continued to rage, and the other elf did not turn around.

After a moment, the elf raised his voice and spoke. “Dilmir,” he said, his voice oddly clear in the wind.

Ilrin instantly looked around, wondering if Dilmir was behind her, but she saw no one save for the young elf. And then the truth hit her.

Slowly, as if it were being sucked from the air, the storm began to dissipate. The cloud neither shrank nor grew, but simply began to fade. The lightning and thunder quickly ceased, and soon nothing was left but a faint wisp of white cloud, which quickly vanished as well.

Dilmir lowered his hands and turned. His eyes immediately latched onto Ilrin’s. Ilrin, without conscious thought, took a step backwards, and then instantly wished she hadn’t. Dilmir’s expression did not change in the least, though he looked at her oddly, as if he were trying to decide something.

The older elf, noticing Dilmir’s look, said, “You know this girl, Dilmir?”

Dilmir didn’t change his position or look away, but merely replied in a masked voice, “Yes. She was my friend at Eld’rin.”

The elf turned back to Ilrin, but she remained looking at Dilmir. What had he meant, she was his friend?

“Very well,” said the elf, glancing between Ilrin and Dilmir. “You may follow me.” He walked past Ilrin and opened the doors, motioning for her to enter first. She turned slowly, reluctant to look away from Dilmir, though his look still conveyed nothing to her. She turned at last, and went in through the door, conscious that Dilmir had followed her, though at a distance.

The old elf entered after him and closed the door, advancing across the floor rapidly to lead Ilrin. He passed the giant tree, and crossed to one of the far rooms, opening the door with the palm of his hand. It slid open at his touch, vines snaking away, and he offered his hand to where it had been, signaling Ilrin to go in first.

She stepped cautiously across the threshold, scared of disturbing the delicate enchantments she saw everywhere, but the old elf came in after her, circled a large table, and sat heavily in a chair.

The chair, oddly, though it grew out of the floor, moved when he touched it, sliding smoothly closer to the table. Ilrin heard a soft rustling behind her, and knew that Dilmir had entered as well, closing the door behind him.

The elf motioned to a chair across from him, and Ilrin sat down, Dilmir leaning against the one of the trees that held the door, straight and alert, though his face was impassive.

“I have been told you bring me word from Felnir,” said the elf, leaning his elbows on the table and watching Ilrin. Unlike any other elf Ilrin had met, he did not mask his features. His voice was kind, and reassured her in his presence.

Ilrin started. “You – You’re Eltuthar?” she said. She had thought Eltuthar the Black would be a weather-beaten warrior, not this venerable elf staring at her.

The elf, however, nodded. “That is my name,” he said. “May I inquire as to yours?”

“Ilrin,” said Ilrin, her voice sounding small in the big room. She could not believe that she was talking with the most dangerous elf ever known, even if he was sitting calmly in what appeared to be a study.

“Very well,” said Eltuthar, leaning back. “Now what is this that you bring me, Ilrin?”

Ilrin glanced up at Dilmir. Slowly, he walked to the head of the table, and sat in a chair, watching her, as did Eltuthar, though Ilrin felt somehow that he wasn’t looking at her. She turned back to Eltuthar.

“I’ve been sent by Felnir to warn you that the elves mean to attack you,” she said in a rush.

She could practically feel Dilmir tense in his chair, but Eltuthar merely frowned. “So soon?” she heard him whisper to himself.

“How did he find out?” he asked, aloud.

“He didn’t,” said Ilrin. Her voice suddenly faltered as she realized what she was saying. “I – I did. He told me to warn you.”

Eltuthar raised his eyes to Ilrin’s and searched them for a moment. Ilrin met his gaze, though she would have liked much better to look away. “How soon?” he whispered, after a moment.

“I – I don’t know,” said Ilrin, her voice still quavering. “They could be coming right now.”

Eltuthar sat back in his chair, suddenly looking much older. “I wonder…” he mused to himself in a quiet voice. However, appearing to reach a decision, he shook his head, muttering, “No, far too soon for that.” Rising suddenly, he turned to Dilmir.

“Dilmir,” he said, “show Ilrin a room where she can rest; she is doubtless tired from her journey. Also have her weapons returned to her, she means us no harm.”

Dilmir nodded and rose, beckoning to Ilrin silently to follow him. Ilrin rose as well, looking uncertainly between Dilmir and Eltuthar, then went through the door which Dilmir held open for her. He closed it behind her, and led her to the great tree. She thought he might speak now that they were alone, but he said nothing, and silently led her up the spiral stairs.

In a moment, Ilrin found herself being led down a silent hall, past a row of closed doors. Dilmir went by them all, until he came to one at a corner. Here, he placed his palm on the vines, causing them to unfurl to reveal a dark room, a little larger than Ilrin’s bedroom. Dilmir placed his hand on the inside wall, and more of the curious leaves lit within the room, shedding their light on it. He then silently offered the room to Ilrin.

Ilrin stepped inside, glancing about the walls, which were covered with yet another pattern of flowing water, and then turned to Dilmir. He had been about to leave, closing the door behind him, but she stopped him.

“Dilmir,” she said, unable to bear his strange silence any longer. “What’s wrong?”

Dilmir turned, but said nothing. He simply looked at her quietly. “Nothing,” he said after a moment. His voice was masked, as was his face.

Ilrin found the change in him disconcerting. He had never been good at hiding things, especially from her. “What did you mean?” she asked, “earlier, when you said I was your friend?”

“Weren’t you?” asked Dilmir, his face blank, though his voice carried a faint tone of surprise.

“Am I not still?” asked Ilrin softly.

Dilmir continued to look at her for a space, then shut the door and stepped fully inside. “I thought you would no longer want to be my friend,” he said, “not after what I did, not now that you know who I truly am.”

“Dilmir,” said Ilrin, “I heard Aldir talking with a mage just yesterday. He set you up. He wanted you to react.”

“Why?” asked Dilmir, truly surprised now.

“The council decided that you were too powerful to remain in Eld’rin,” said Ilrin, allowing a hint of bitterness to enter her voice. “They employed Aldir to give them a reason to banish you.”

Dilmir’s face, which had looked almost hopeful a moment before, fell. “And they were right, weren’t they?” he said.

“That’s not the point,” said Ilrin, beginning to feel exasperated. “I don’t care how powerful you are or who you’re related to. The point is that Aldir forced you to use your power.”

Only one line of this seemed to have been heard by Dilmir. “You don’t care how powerful I am?” he said, ignoring Ilrin’s last words.

“Of course not,” said Ilrin, her line of thinking temporarily thrown into disarray by his question. “I’ve known you were powerful for seven years, of course it doesn’t matter to me. As for Eltuthar, you can’t change that, and your relatives don’t change you, no matter who they are.”

It was as if Dilmir’s mask fell away. In an instant, a smile had crossed onto his face, and the Dilmir that Ilrin had always known was back, as though no change had taken place.

“So the council has been against me this entire time,” he said musingly, unable to wipe the smile from his face. “Why didn’t they banish me when I attacked Cyprien? I showed my power then.”

Ilrin only had to think for a moment to come up with the answer. “They couldn’t banish you,” she said. “You had just been attacked by Alfimir. Everything you did you could have claimed as done in self defense. They couldn’t have banished you for that. Besides, they had Alfimir to deal with.”

Dilmir nodded slowly, his brow furrowed, the grin still on his face, though it had nothing to do with his words. “Then I can’t go back,” he said slowly.

“Why would you want to?” asked Ilrin, surprised. “No one there ever treated you kindly, except for your aunt.”

Dilmir glanced up at her.

“And me, I suppose,” added Ilrin, under his gaze.

Dilmir looked back down. “All I’ve ever wanted was to be a normal elf,” he said, the smile finally gone. “Just to go to Eld’rin, train, make friends, maybe become a mage, just like anyone else.”

Ilrin bent her knees, half squatting so that she could look up into Dilmir’s face. “You aren’t a normal elf, Dilmir,” she said, rising as he looked up. “There aren’t any normal elves. They’re all different; they all have something that makes them special to the people that care about them.”

Dilmir looked at Ilrin for nearly a full ten seconds, and then, slowly, a wide smile began to spread across his face once again. “You always could keep me going,” he said, “keep me trying to make the elves see sense.”

“That’s what friends are for,” said Ilrin, finally smiling as well.

Dilmir opened the door and turned to leave. “Get some rest, Ilrin,” he said. “You’ll need it tomorrow.”

Ilrin turned to the elegantly grown bed on one side of the room as Dilmir closed the door, realizing quite suddenly just how tired she was.

Chapter Twenty-One – Approach

Birds twittered overhead, spreading their happiness through the leaves. Faint rays of new daylight filtered down to the forest floor from overhead, painting it in dappled colors. All was peaceful as the sun rose over the Great Forest.

Ilrin walked, half asleep, leading her horse behind her. Her feet found the faint path that she followed, but she was aware of little else. Only her constant motion kept her awake – she would have fallen asleep long ago if she had remained in the saddle.

The Great Forest was split in two by a mighty river, the Ans Aras, which widened to nearly a mile across at certain points. It curved, like a bent bow, pointed towards the East, and the unknown lands that lay there. Within its curve, the elves had made several villages. Most were within the bounds of the trees, though two, to the far north and south, were in the fields next to the forest.

Leading out of the farthest east of these villages was a rough path, leading to a bridge, grown from the roots of two trees. The path continued on the other side, and was said to lead to where Eltuthar resided. Having crossed the bridge, it was on this path that Ilrin now slowly plodded, trying to stay awake.

She forced herself to open her eyes yet again. She had to stay alert. She couldn’t delay, not only because the council’s army could have set out already, but also because if she stopped, the wolves were bound to find her instantly.

Few elves ventured this deep into the forest, for beyond the Ans Aras was the wolves’ domain. Try as they might, the elves could not eradicate them, and they roamed the woods, ready and all too willing to capture or kill any elf that came to them.

Ilrin shuddered at the thought of what they might do if they found her. It was said that the wolves, masters of the trees and keepers of the forest, knew of a plant, that when brewed properly, could drain an elf of his power, leaving him weakened and unable to use magic. Magic was the one thing that the wolves feared, and without it, an elf had little hope against them.

When an elf was captured, the wolves would usually drug him with the brew, and then take him back to their village. There, he might wait for months until a young wolf was ready to join the pack on a hunt. Then, to prove himself, the wolf would slay the elf in combat. There were rumors of worse things the wolves had done though, things that it frightened Ilrin just to think about.

A faint hiss, a soft rustling behind her, caused her to turn, bringing her horse to a stop. She scrutinized the foliage behind her, but the only thing that moved was a small leaf, stirring gently, as if in a breeze. However, Ilrin felt no breath of wind on her cheek.

The forest was still; even the birds had stopped their happy singing. Ilrin frowned. That was never a good sign.

Uncertain, she drew her sword and took a tentative step towards the tall bush from which the sound had come. Nothing met her eyes. She took another step forward, and peered around the trunk of a tree which grew close to the bush, scanning the forest beyond for signs of life. A squirrel dashed away up a tree, but nothing else moved.

Then she felt it. Hot breath materialized on the back of her neck, and she felt more than anything something large, something shaggy, behind her. Without a second thought, she somersaulted forwards, just as the wolf’s teeth clenched down on where she had stood.

Ilrin whipped about, turning to face the wolf. He was at least a good foot taller than she, standing on two legs, and strongly built. His rough dark brown fur was flecked with streaks of black, and his red eyes glinted evilly at her. His mouth formed a snarl, and in an instant, he leapt after her, claws outstretched, mouth open, eager.

Ilrin had time only to duck as the wolf came crashing down. She struck out with her sword at him, and thought she felt it meet flesh, but was unsure. “Eser, cirith imil!” she cried to her horse, which had backed away at the sight of the wolf. No one knew why, but all creatures seemed to understand the ancient elven speech. It was odd, but came in handy. Her horse turned and bolted away down the path.

Ilrin arose, kicking the wolf back down as he struggled to do the same. This was no easy task, as he was far heavier than she was, and she felt a twinge in her foot as it struck the wolf.

Though she knew it would pain her foot further, she then dashed after her horse, willing herself to go faster. The horse slowed ever so slightly as she approached, and she leapt lightly into its saddle, flattening herself against its neck. Her left foot throbbed painfully, but she ignored it as she felt the wind race past her.

She could hear the wolf crashing after her, persuing her with bloodlust in its eyes, but she dared not look behind her. She had heard far too often of an elf subdued by an ambush from the front when he looked back. Wolves were masters of subtly, and it was never wise to underestimate them.

Her horse turned past a thick tree, and Ilrin had barely a moment to see a small clearing ahead. The path led through the clearing, and then up a steep outcropping of rock, high into the mountains. It was not this that drew her gaze, however.

Standing at the head of the clearing, guarding the path, stood an elf. He raised his head as Ilrin thundered down upon him, his eyes widening, and rolled out of the way just in time.

Snorting, Ilrin’s horse came to halt upon the mountain path, eyes wide with fright. Ilrin turned in her saddle just in time to see the wolf dashing, not after her, but in the opposite direction, his tail between his legs. One look at the elf was enough to see why.

She could see, as he got back up and faced her, the red emblem etched onto his armor. He was a Dark Elf.

Neither Eltuthar nor his followers permitted the elves of Eld’rin to come to their sanctuary, though it happened in reverse often enough. The penalty for trespassing was usually a barrage of spells to chase the elf out, unless he brought a message.

Ilrin swiftly slid from her horse as the Dark Elf approached her, blade drawn and glinting in the sun.

“What business have you here?” he said, his voice sharp and rough.

Ilrin looked up at the elf; he was nearly as tall as the wolf had been. “I must speak with Eltuthar,” she said, willing her voice to remain steady. “I bring him word from Felnir.”

The elf scrutinized her for a few painful seconds. Then, sheathing his sword, though his look was still dark, he said, “Very well. Follow me. But I warn you, if you attempt anything that you should not…” he left the sentence hanging, fingering the hilt of his sword. “You have been warned,” he said, shortly. “Mount.”

Ilrin did as she was told, and the Dark Elf, grabbing a hold of her horse’s reigns, led her up the steep path.

As it turned out, the path circled the sheer cliff face, going up gradually, until Ilrin could no longer see where it began. Only then did her eyes pick out, far above, a grand building, grown from living wood, placed high overhead on a small plateau. The path led to it, curving back and forth to avoid going straight up, and soon, her horse was cantering between the large rocks straight towards two massive doors, set into the side of the building. They were set between two columns, flowing smoothly from the ground, and a flight of smooth steps led up to them.

The elf stopped. “Dismount here,” he said, holding the horse’s reigns still.

Ilrin obeyed.

“You will need to leave your weapons with your horse. Both will be returned to you when you leave.”

Ilrin nodded and pulled her bow and quiver over her head, strapping them to the horse’s side. Then, very reluctantly, she unbelted her sword, and placed it with her bow. Despite the fact that she could use magic, she felt nearly defenseless without her blade at her side.

“Now,” said the elf, turning his stern gaze upon her, “follow me directly, and speak to no one save Eltuthar.”

Ilrin nodded mutely. Only her knowledge of what at this very moment sped through the forest kept her from turning and running back down the path as fast as she possibly could.

The Dark Elf ascended the smooth steps, Ilrin close behind, and placed his hand on the two doors. The vines that covered them snaked back, and then folded inwards. Following silently, Ilrin stepped into the sanctuary of Eltuthar the Black.

Chapter Twenty – Treason

Dusk fell quickly. Bats fluttered freely over Eld’rin, darting in and out of its massive leaves, playing in its strong branches. Moths fluttered low to the ground, drawn by the lights of the elven homes. Ilrin walked amongst the roots of the lower district, though her steps were wandering. She need not go home immediately, now that training was over for the day, Endir having pulled off another incredible all-time low in his swordplay.

She walked the roots, her mind far away, heedless of the fog beginning to appear. As she wandered, the scene of that morning, of hundreds of soldiers training, invaded her mind. After nearly ten more minutes, she finally came to a decision. She had no love for Eltuthar or his ways, but if Dilmir was with him, which she believed him to be, he must be warned.

She had seen how the soldiers were training, for they had trained in the afternoon as well. Every move they made, every spell they practiced, was designed to kill. They meant to take no prisoners. Eltuthar and every one of his followers would be slain immediately when they attacked, unless someone warned them. Ilrin’s blood chilled at the thought, but, whoever he might be, she could not let Dilmir be killed.

However, she had to know something first. Directing her steps for the first time in nearly half an hour, she made good time towards her home. She passed the door, however, leaping over the squares of light which poured from the windows, and made her way to a dark staircase set into the wall of the root instead. It was narrow, and twisted downwards, out of sight, to be consumed by shadows. Without a second thought, she plunged down the slippery steps. After a brief sojourn in the darkness, she found other steps and climbed them. They led to a small hallway, located just behind her house.

She shuddered as she saw what lined the far wall; her parents had forbidden her to ever come here, for this was where wrong-doers were held to await their trial. Most of the cells set in the wall were empty, she knew, but the place still held a sinister feeling.

She walked quickly, not wanting to spend any more time in this place than she had to. Every door she passed was open, indicating that the cell was ready to receive a new prisoner. Because elves could use magic, the cells had to be shielded with a stretch through which nothing could pass. Air, flesh, or magic, all would stop upon encountering it. Or at least air and magic would. A hand would simply explode. Ilrin shuddered at the thought. The doors used to all be closed until, upon opening one to put an elf inside, another was accidentally let out. After that incident, all cells that were empty had their doors left ajar.

Ilrin soon found herself before the only cell with a closed door. Vines stretched across the doorway, shielding the interior from view. Slowly, Ilrin crept up to the cell, knowing that the elf who lay inside was nearly as powerful as Alfimir.

Knowing full well that she would be banished in an instant if she were caught, she stretched forth a shaking hand, and touched one of the vines. At first, nothing happened. Then, a thin tendril snaked forward, and wound its way into the cell, granted strength to resist exploding by Ilrin’s magic. It slowly grew, resolving itself into a hollow tube barely an inch across. Warily, Ilrin lowered her eye to the opening she had created, which was by itself enough to allow the Dark Elf within to escape.

Slumped against the far wall was a large elf. She shifted her position, trying to get a better look, and gasped as she saw his face: It was Felnir.

Her intake of breath, unfortunately, woke him. He leapt up in an instant, searching for the source of the sound. Ilrin hastily drew back as he spotted her looking at him. She retreated to the far wall, and soon saw Felnir’s eye scrutinizing her through the tube.

“You,” he said. His voice was neither accusing nor reassuring, it simply conveyed a fact.

“Please, Felnir,” said Ilrin, “don’t try to get out. If you did, they would catch me.”

Felnir looked at her, his eye conveying nothing but an inscrutable patience. “What do you want?” he finally asked.

“You have seen Eltuthar?” asked Ilrin.

Felnir nodded slowly.

“Is Dilmir with him?” asked Ilrin, abandoning all pretext. Time was of the essence.

Again, Felnir nodded slowly. “You speak of the one that trained with you, Dilmir, son of Felmir? Yes, he is with him. But why must you know? Surely you did not risk my escape to merely inquire after his health?”

“I must warn him,” said Ilrin, taking a step closer to the vines. “The elves mean to attack Eltuthar and slay all with him.”

Felnir’s eye blinked and a low curse escaped him. “So that is what they were after. If only I had known.”

Ilrin looked at him fearfully. “You… You told them?”

“No,” laughed Felnir, his voice painful nonetheless. “The information was taken from me against my will. Listen,” he said suddenly, “if you truly mean to warn Dilmir, you must do it tonight. Long have the elves waited for what I have given them, and I fear that they will waste little time. They may even be on their way now.”

“How will I get in?” asked Ilrin, taking another step closer and feeling her stomach tense into a knot. She was actually conspiring with a Dark Elf.

“Tell them you seek to speak with Eltuthar,” said Felnir. “Don’t tell them you bring a message, he has had enough of those already. Tell them that I sent you on a matter of great importance.”

Ilrin nodded, her face barely a foot from the vines.

“Go,” whispered Felnir, “waste no time.”

As Ilrin watched, the tendril forced its way back into the vine; Felnir would not betray her. She didn’t hesitate another minute, but ran from the place, her footfalls soundless in the darkness.

She arrived at her home a moment later, just as her mother was opening the door to see if she had arrived yet. Fortunately, she did not notice that Ilrin came from the wrong direction, and ushered her into the house, inquiring about her reason for being late. Ilrin supplied a vague excuse, and sat down at the table.

“So tell me,” said her father as they began to eat, “was Endir any better today?”

The last thing Ilrin wanted to do was talk about Endir, but she had to humor her father, to keep him from being suspicious.

“No,” she said, feigning tiredness, “he was even worse today than he was yesterday.”

Ilrin’s parents looked at each other. Whenever they discussed Endir, she had the distinct feeling that they wanted her to like him. However, she flatly refused to do so, though none of this had been said openly.

“How about in the morning, though?” asked her mother. “I thought he was good at magic.”

“He’s all right,” admitted Ilrin. “He did master spells faster than anyone else his age.”

And so the conversation went, Ilrin squirming uncomfortably to be free and go to her room. After what seemed an eternity, the meal was finished, and, feigning tiredness once again, she retired.

She sat for a long time on the edge of her bed, fully clothed, a small pack beside her, listening to her parents. They remained talking far into the night, though all she could hear was the muffled sound of their voices, as no words reached her. Nearly an hour after she had closed her door, she heard them rise, and retire as well. Only then was the house silent.

Ilrin waited for another five minutes for good measure, then, unable to wait any longer, grabbed her cloak, strapped her sword to her belt, and slung her bow and quiver over her back. Then, raising her hood over her hair to cast her face in shadows, she slipped silently from her room.

Elves should never be taught how to go unnoticed when they are only fourteen, she thought as she placed her hand on the door. They can slip away far too easily. She smiled despite herself, and then caused the vines of the door to weave back together.

She had only slipped out of her house during the night two other times, neither of which she was overly eager to remember. Quietly, she weaved her way between the roots, parting the mist before her, and watching it close in behind her as she moved. Soon, she reached the center of the sleeping city, but did not stop. She turned right, past a silently shimmering pool of water, and entered the elven stables.

Proud horses pawed nervously at her entrance, nearly all of them fair. White, light brown, and dappled gray were to be found, but in all the stables, only three horses were dark brown or black. No one knew why the elven horses were such a light color, just that they had always been that way.

Ilrin selected one of the gray ones, since it would be harder to spot, and saddled it. She had had plenty of experience with horses when she was fourteen, and had little trouble. She had soon mounted it, and led it out of the stables.

She did not head for the main gate, but instead turned the horse’s head towards where she knew Dilmir’s house lay. The horse’s hooves made little noise as it walked sedately between the houses, heading for the side gate that led directly to the training field where Ilrin had dueled with Dilmir.

She turned in the saddle and glanced one last time at Dilmir’s house as she passed. All but one window was dark. She turned back and turned the horse sideways so that she could place her hand on the vines that sealed the gate. They parted at her light touch, and the horse cantered through.

Ahead of her, Ilrin could see the line of trees that was the Great Forest. It surrounded Eld’rin on two sides, with a wide field between. It was crossing this that was to prove difficult.

The elves defended Eld’rin against their mortal enemies, the wolves, with more than blades. The very grass was enchanted to grab hold of any intruder, and thorny brambles would sprout from the ground to repel any force. Ilrin, however, was an elf.

She forced her horse into a trot as it made its way onto the field. It moved lightly over the training field, Ilrin glancing up many times at the wall overhead, hoping that none of the guards would see her. She forced it to go faster as it reached the taller grass, finally causing it to gallop towards the trees. With barely enough time, she saw the grass begin to rise up to meet her. Raising her palm towards it, she released a bolt of energy, blasting it flat to the ground as she thundered past into the dark trees.