That’s all I hear these days thought Dilmir as he got gingerly back to his feet, rubbing the spot on his side where Ilrin’s sword had nicked him. He absently pushed his hair out of his eyes and rose to face Ilrin once again.
It was nearing evening; the two of them had been training for nearly five and a half hours already. Any human would have dropped to the ground from exhaustion long ago, but magic had strange effects.
The elves had once been very similar to humans when Feylund had first been created. But by chance, magic had found them. Magic, by its very essence, changed whatever it touched, altering it in ways far too small for a normal mind to follow. The elves, however, had been altered to such an extent that they could control the magic about them, an ability which no other race on Feylund possessed.
There were other results of their contact with magic, of course, and one of them was that elves could battle for hours on end without tiring. Their bodies, however, were not meant for such long periods of exertion, but the elves had become a hardened race over the years, capable of taking many a brutal punishment.
Dilmir retrieved his sword, which Ilrin had knocked to the ground.
“Again,” said the trainer, stepping back from them, his arms folded.
Dilmir rested his sword easily in front of him, warily watching Ilrin as she considered him. Ilrin slightly tilted her head to one side, as if considering something, and then, in an instant, leapt at Dilmir.
Or so Dilmir thought. As he moved to block her blow, she swerved and attacked him from a completely different direction. Dilmir tried to turn with her, to bring his sword back down from its elevated position, but she was too fast. In another moment, he felt the tip of her sword touch his side lightly.
“Dilmir,” said the trainer, stepping forward as Ilrin stepped back, “you have to be quicker with your feet. Ilrin made that look easy.”
“It wasn’t all that easy,” said Ilrin. “You’re just focusing on your sword too much. You need to think about where you are instead. Always be moving out of the way.”
Dilmir grinned faintly as he gingerly felt his side. “I’m always afraid I’ll move into your sword, not out of the way,” he said. Ilrin permitted herself a short smile before returning her face to its usual masked state.
“She’s right, Dilmir,” said the trainer. “Swordplay isn’t about strength, it’s about agility. You have to be fast enough to stay out of your opponent’s way, and be ready to strike a blow at any moment. Try again.”
Dilmir sighed, but brought his sword up obediently. The sun would set soon, meaning that the training was almost over. Even for an elf, five hours of nothing but combat, and constant defeat at that, was rather tiring.
“Remember,” said the trainer, “anticipate her moves. Be ready for anything.”
As Dilmir watched Ilrin, he realized there was more truth to this warning than usual: there was never any way to tell what Ilrin was about to do. Dilmir got a firmer grip on his sword and waited.
Ilrin made several half hearted feints on his left side, but seemed unwilling to attack in earnest. Dilmir could see her eyes darting from place to place, trying to find a means of attack. Her delay could mean only two things. Either she was purposefully stalling, trying to get him to relax, or she really could find no unguarded place to attack. Dilmir very much hoped it was the later.
No sooner had he decided this then Ilrin suddenly ducked, and spinning half around nearly slid along the grass, her sword pointed up, its tip slicing towards Dilmir at an alarming rate. Dilmir leapt up in a kind of ungraceful cross between a flip and a pirouette to avoid her, only to find her blade pointing serenely at his chest when he landed.
“What in the name of Aranthar was that?” he asked, stumbling backwards.
Ilrin smiled. “I don’t know,” she said, “I thought it up.” Both Dilmir and the trainer looked at her with impressed looks before masking their faces. “You don’t just think something like that up,” objected Dilmir weakly, though he couldn’t quite keep a faint trace of amazement out of his voice.
“Well, no, I didn’t,” said Ilrin, leaning closer to him and lowering her voice so that the trainer wouldn’t hear. “I thought it up a few nights back and have been waiting to try it.” This did very little to lower Dilmir’s opinion of her, however.
“Perhaps,” said the trainer, “you should attack normally, Ilrin. Give Dilmir a chance to get away from you. He keeps on reacting well, but your attacks are near impossible to break out of.”
“No,” said Dilmir, catching himself a little by surprise. “If I’m going to beat her, I want to do it on my own, not because she let me.”
“Very well,” said the trainer, his face blank, though his words came with a sour tinge. “Try again.”
Dilmir and Ilrin took up stances opposite each other, as they had been doing all afternoon. Out of the corner of his eye, Dilmir saw the sun touch the horizon. This would likely be the last duel for the day, and he meant to win it if he could. He gripped his sword harder.
As he watched Ilrin, a sudden thought occurred to him. With the trainer constantly telling him to be ready for anything, was it possible that he could catch her by surprise? Dilmir careful sized up his chances, keeping a watchful eye on Ilrin the whole time. As he saw her eyes dart down, still looking for a weakness, he suddenly lunged forward, his momentum perfectly controlled.
Ilrin’s sword flashed up in an instant, but Dilmir had expected it. He swerved to the side and down at the last moment, attacking Ilrin with the move she had used on him not a minute ago. She, however, knew what to do.
Bringing her sword back, she slid away from Dilmir’s attack, her feet firm on the ground, only her body moving away from him. Dilmir flung his sword upwards, only to have it meet Ilrin’s. He leapt sideways to keep his balance, and, pushing his sword up, forced hers up as well. For a very brief moment, both Ilrin and Dilmir were unguarded, there swords connected in the air above them, and then, everything changed. Ilrin fell backwards, flipping over and landing squatted down, so that she was close to the ground. Dilmir, the pressure against which his sword had been striving suddenly gone, stumbled forward, and at the same moment, Ilrin’s sword snaked out and tripped him. She leapt lightly out of the way as he fell to the ground and landed, standing, her sword lightly touching his throat.
Dilmir groaned to himself and closed his eyes.
“That was much better, Dilmir,” said the trainer, “much better. That’s enough for today, we’ll continue tomorrow.”
Dilmir got painfully to his feet as Ilrin sheathed her sword. The repeated light tapings of her blade had begun to leave bruises half way through the training. “You know I could have kicked you to the ground when I had your sword up?” he said as he sheathed his own blade. Ilrin nodded. “Of course you could have,” she said.
They looked at each other for a moment, and then Ilrin turned away, unable to hide her smile.
“That’s what I thought,” said Dilmir, not without a grin.
“You really are getting better, though,” said Ilrin, turning back to him, her face serious once again.
“Just you wait,” replied Dilmir, grinning, as they began walking around the giant tree that cast its shade over them towards the gate. “Tomorrow I’ll actually defeat you.”
Ilrin laughed lightly as they walked past a small rise, which hid the dark forest from view.
If Dilmir had looked behind him, he might have seen a shadowy figure lurking behind this rise, carefully watching him as he passed.
It was now or never. Dilmir was the last elf to leave the field, no others were near, save for the girl. The figure wondered briefly who she might be, but decided that he would have to risk her. Dilmir obviously trusted her. Just as the figure made to move from the shadows, an icy hand gripped his throat, plunging him back into the darkness and flinging him against the earthy mound behind him, against which he was held.
“Uldir,” said a smooth voice, slicing coolly through the blackness. “What are you doing here?”
Uldir froze. He knew that voice. “I am visiting my nephew whom I haven’t seen in eight years,” he said, trying to make it sound as if this were the obvious explanation.
There was a pause, and then the voice replied, its silky coolness chilling Uldir to the bone, “… in the dead of night?”
“Yes, in the dead of night, Alfimir!” replied Uldir, his fear mounting. “I have had a long journey, and have only now just arrived. Let me go. You have no right to hold me here.”
“I have all the right I need,” replied Alfimir coldly, his face materializing before Uldir. It looked white beneath his hood. “I know why you have come to warn Dilmir.”
“Warn him?” replied Uldir, trying to look surprised. “Warn him from what?”
Alfimir laughed softly, but kept his voice quiet. “Do not feign ignorance with me, Uldir, son of Eludir, brother of Aimim. I know perfectly well why you are here, and you will not enter Eld’rin. The council prefers to keep its dealings quiet.”
at Alfimir’s words. “How can you… you can’t… you won’t…”
Uldir’s words were caught of short as Alfimir twisted his hand, the hand holding Uldir, very slightly. Uldir instantly went silent, his eyes bulged, and then he went limp. Alfimir released him, and he fell to the ground, a black hump in the night. Alfimir wiped his hand smoothly on his cloak and looked around the rise. Dilmir and the girl were walking slowly; they hadn’t yet entered the gate. They were nearing it though, and Alfimir knew he would have to act fast. In the moment he skirted around the mound, though, everything changed.
Dilmir was enjoying the cool night breeze as the last rays of the sun faded, oblivious of the murder that took place behind him. He was contentedly hearing Ilrin chatter about her plans for growing her own house when she was older, without really taking in a word, and glanced up absently at the moon. What he saw made him stop in his tracks, his hand suddenly clutched convulsively about Ilrin’s arm. She looked up as well, and Dilmir heard a little gasp of horror escape her.
“Vampires,” muttered Dilmir, as another black shape flitted across the moon. “Ilrin,” he said turning to her, “get inside and warn the others. I’ll be right behind you.”
Ilrin did not move, but remained where she was, though she glanced at Dilmir, as though doubting him. Dilmir turned to her. There was no time to reason with her, she had to get inside the city. The elves already didn’t trust him, but if anything were to happen to Ilrin in his presence, things would not go well with either of them. “Get inside,” he said again, before turning back to the moon. Ilrin took a tentative step towards the gate, but before she had gone further, a vampire landed directly in front of her. Ilrin let out a scream and stumbled backwards to Dilmir, who turned to face the vampire. He felt his blood run cold.
Cyprien Essenwein, lord of all vampires, stood, looking about him, his pallid face shining in the moonlight. He quickly caught sight of Ilrin, and fastened his eyes upon her. “Ah, dinner…” he hissed softly, his red tongue darting out and licking his lips hungrily. Ilrin darted behind Dilmir even as Cyprien whirled his hand in the air, grasping a blade from it. Just as he was preparing to leap forward, Dilmir shot his arm out, and Cyprien was flung back to strike a nearby root with such force that the wood cracked.
The vampire looked mildly surprised at being flung down by apparently nothing but air, and struggled to get up.
Dilmir, however, was not finished with him. He could feel the vampire’s struggles through the air which he controlled, and, with his other hand, formed a fist of more air, preparing to beat the vampire down. Cyprien, however, was no ordinary vampire.
“Az rakanar!” he hissed, and Dilmir felt the air he had controlled but a moment before dissipate. He groped to regain it, but Cyprien flew forwards, knocking him to the ground. Dilmir rolled to avoid Cyprien, for he knew full well what befell any elf that met his icy grasp.
“Saren!” cried Cyprien, stretching his hand towards Dilmir. “Do not flee from me.”
In an instant, Dilmir felt his momentum cease. He sprawled on the ground, struggling to get up, as Cyprien advanced on him, his blade carving circles in the air as he twirled it. “I shall deal with you first,” said Cyprien, and evil smile on his face, “and then we shall see how good the girl tastes.”
Dilmir’s anger rose, pushing his fear out of the way. Feeling for the ground beneath Cyprien, he flung his arm upwards, causing the earth to do likewise. Cyprien was flung into the sky, his grin vanishing in an instant. Most unfortunately, he landed next to Dilmir, his hand outstretched, eager, grasping…
A ball of flame, so hot that Dilmir could feel it coming, crashed into Cyprien. He was knocked off of his feet and flung past Dilmir, to land on the ground behind him. Dilmir quickly scrambled up, moving away from the vampire even as he rose, his smile now replaced with a grimace, whether of pain or anger, Dilmir couldn’t tell. Dilmir stumbled backwards, and in another instant, a cloaked and hooded figure came into his range of vision, marching slowly towards Cyprien, now casting a barrage of shimmering blue bolts of magic at him. The bolts struck quickly, but seemed to have little effect, for Cyprien flung himself into the air and flew towards the advancing elf. The elf drew back for a moment, and then thrust both of his hands, palms outwards, towards Cyprien as he dove, shooting something bright and green at him. The spell hit Cyprien directly in the chest, and he fell to earth with a dull thud, screaming in agony.
The vampire leapt up once again, flinging balls of fire at the elf, who deflected them with a rapidity which amazed Dilmir, and then flew backwards into the night, still attempting to rid himself of the curse.
Dilmir watched him twist through the air, growing smaller and smaller, until he was but a speck against the moon, winging his way towards his dark castle. Only then did he look back down.
“Alfimir!” he said in surprise as he recognized the archmage.
Alfimir turned to him. His hood had slipped from his head during the battle, revealing a length of dark hair and a face that always appeared strangely drained of color. “Aye,” he said simply, acknowledging Dilmir.
For a moment, Alfimir observed Dilmir, as if pondering something. And then, without warning, he conjured a sword seemingly from the black night itself, and, whirling it to point at Dilmir, flung it at him.
Time seemed to slow down. Dilmir watched, not understanding what had just happened, as the sword flipped end over end towards him, getting ever closer, the sharp edge gleaming menacingly in the moonlight. He saw, before the blade struck, Alfimir’s stony face, devoid of emotion, his mouth set. He heard Ilrin’s cry of shock from nearby, as she rushed towards him. The last thing he saw was Alfimir’s face, blank as ever, though Dilmir thought he saw a trace of grim satisfaction flash across it for a brief instant. And then, everything went dark, and blackness enveloped Dilmir.