Ilrin never tired of looking at the mists. Even after years of walking through them, they never failed to present new shapes and sizes to her eyes. The fog eddied and flowed about her like something alive, some last vestige of the mystical moments before the sun chased the shadows from Feylund.
She reached the center of Eld’rin, and paused, as usual, searching for Dilmir. No shape met her eye; no greeting pierced the sleepy stillness of the city. She sighed as the memories of the past week came flooding back to her, weighing her down like a hundred stones. She knew there was no use waiting for him. She knew she would only make herself late; and yet, she did not want to acknowledge that never again would they walk together under the leaves of Eld’rin.
She ceased her searching, her heart heavy, and slowly made her way to the gates, her eyes downcast. The fact that the friend she had thought she had known for seven years was in fact a descendant of Eltuthar the Black had not left her in a light mood. Even though what he had done was as clear as the new sun overhead, she constantly found herself looking around, wondering where he had gone.
Her searches were always fruitless. Dilmir wasn’t there anymore. No one met her in the mornings, no one walked with her to the gates, and his place in the afternoon training had been taken by another elf, Endir by name, who was so depressingly unskilled with the sword that Ilrin found it difficult to avoid running him through, though whether out of his lack of skill or her frustration was sometimes hard to tell.
Ilrin sighed as she walked. What had happened to Dilmir? When they had first become friends, he had told her what he had done to the wolves the night he came to Eld’rin. He had told her how he had discovered the magic within him, the magic that was far more powerful than that which any other elf possessed. But he had been afraid then, afraid of what would happen because of his power. He had told Ilrin that he must never use it again, if the elves were ever to forget it.
For seven years, he had done just that: Nothing. And then, just over a week ago, he had acted as Ilrin had never seen him act before. In just four days, he had begun drawing all attention back to himself, until he had nearly killed Aldir. She knew it had been an accident, that he would never hurt anyone on purpose, but she didn’t understand why he had suddenly decided to show his power. It was as if he had suddenly done everything he had told her he must never do, and now he was banished.
Her thoughts were suddenly interrupted by a voice nearby: Aldir’s. She glanced up, and saw him walking to the nearest of the four trees of Eld’rin, accompanied by a mage. She frowned. She was sure he had training at this hour in the morning. She was about to continue to the gates, when the mage said Dilmir’s name, causing her to stop. Curious, she slipped into the shadows of a high root and crept closer to Aldir and the mage.
“…and excellent execution, I might add,” the mage was saying. “You’re sure Dilmir had no idea?”
“Positive,” replied Aldir comfortably. “All I had to do was watch him for a space, so that I could determine what would trigger him. After the attack by Cyprien, it wasn’t hard. He reacted a bit more harshly than I thought he would, but the more the better.”
“It is fortunate,” agreed the mage. “He was too powerful to remain here. It’s good that he went to such an extreme…”
At this point, they entered the tree, muffling their voices and leaving Ilrin crouched in the shadows, her heart beating quickly. What did Aldir mean? It sounded as if he had set Dilmir up. And then everything made sense. The elves were afraid of Dilmir’s power, and Aldir had been sent to cause him to use it, so that they could have an excuse to banish him. Ilrin’s brow darkened with anger. What kind of twisted justice was this? If the council could banish Dilmir this way, they could just as easily banish her or any one of its other subjects.
And yet, Ilrin could not believe that Aldir could sink so low. Making sure that no one saw her, she slipped from the shadows, and hastened to pursue him.
Aldir, as it turned out, split up with the mage quickly. The mage turned, and ascended the nearby stairs, while Aldir continued through the tree. Ilrin waited, following him at a distance, until he had exited, and was between the rows of large houses, amongst which Aimim’s sat.
He turned as she called out to him, his face breaking into an easy grin. “What is it, Ilrin?” he asked. “Shouldn’t you be training?”
“Shouldn’t you?” Ilrin countered.
Aldir’s smile faltered at her accusing tone. “Perhaps,” he said, slowly. “However, there are things that take precedence over training.”
“Like causing Dilmir to use his power so that you could banish him?” said Ilrin, unable to contain herself.
Aldir frowned. “How much did you hear?” he asked.
“Enough,” said Ilrin, seeing her dark look reflected in Aldir’s face.
Aldir was silent for a moment. “I don’t regret what I did, Ilrin,” he said slowly, “I believe it was for the best. I know he was your friend, and I’m sorry for that, but he was dangerous and had to be removed. Surely you see that.”
Ilrin was at a loss for words. Aldir wasn’t even denying that he had set Dilmir up. And then his words came back to her. All I had to do was watch him for a space, so that I could determine what would trigger him. After the attack by Cyprien, it wasn’t hard.
She felt her blood rise to her face as she realized what he had meant.
“I don’t want you as an enemy, Ilrin,” said Aldir.
Ilrin looked at him, hate as she had never felt before welling up in her. “Then you’ve failed,” she said, trying to keep her voice steady. “I will never forget what you’ve done, and as long as I live, neither will you.”
Aldir’s face hardened. “So be it,” he said. “I did only what I saw as necessary. One day, you will see that I was right to act.”
Ilrin shot a look of pure venom at him, and he turned, walking away until he was swallowed by the houses. Shaking with suppressed rage, she turned as well, and reentered the tree.
She barely saw where she was going, but blindly made her way through the gates, onto the field, and up to Iliadin, who was waiting for her.
“Where have you been?” asked Iliadin, as she came up.
Ilrin started to supply an excuse, but stopped, mouth open, as she saw past Iliadin. The field was full of, not mages and their pupils, but soldiers, hundreds of them. They were all practicing spells and enchantments, the complexity of which Ilrin had never seen. “What are they doing?” she asked.
“Haven’t you heard?” said Iliadin, surprised. “The council means to move on Eltuthar.”
Ilrin snapped her head around so fast she was momentarily sure she had broken her neck. Rubbing it, she said, “Why?”
“He’s getting more powerful,” said Iliadin, shrugging her shoulders. “If we don’t strike while he’s still weak, he’ll come back worse than ever before, and we might not be able to stop him this time.”
Ilrin glanced back at the training soldiers. “How do you know he’s getting more powerful?” she asked, curious, but also a little wary.
Iliadin looked down at her. “I thought you would have heard this,” she said, evidentially surprised. “It’s been all over the city.”
“I’ve been distracted lately,” said Ilrin vaguely, still watching the soldiers.
Iliadin frowned, as if to agree with her. “The far posts have been reporting things, unnatural things, happening over there,” she said, speaking more quietly. Ilrin turned her attention to her.
“For the first few months,” continued Iliadin, “it was just sudden rain clouds and unexplained weather like that, but recently, there have been strange thunderstorms that cover half of the Great Forest, and that seem to come from nowhere. One moment, the sky is clear, the next, it’s pitch black. Some elves have even reported trees moving, like they were alive. Even the ground seems to be shifting. Eltuthar’s up there doing something, and the council won’t sit back while he gets more powerful. They mean to put a stop to it.”
It was a moment before Ilrin spoke. “But,” she said, finally seeing a problem, “how can they? The last time elves went to Eltuthar, he knew they were there long before they arrived.”
Iliadin smiled. “A Dark Elf was captured lately, and he’s being held in a secure cell. The mages are questioning him as we speak. Once he tells them how, we’ll be able to ambush Eltuthar and end his threat once and for all.”
Ilrin felt herself blanch. “You captured a Dark Elf?” she repeated. “Won’t Eltuthar interpret that as an act of war?”
Iliadin smiled down at her once again. “He doesn’t know,” she said, “at least not yet. We’ll have his secret out soon enough, before he even realizes one of his elves is missing.”
Ilrin looked doubtfully over the mass of training soldiers. If half of what she had heard of Eltuthar was true, Sonlen had only been able to beat him by a lucky blow, in which he cast a powerful curse. The king’s army would have been crushed by Eltuthar’s, had they not surrendered when Eltuthar was beaten.
“You know,” mused Iliadin, “it’s odd. Those strange storms I mentioned only started happening a week ago.”
Ilrin felt what little color was left in her face drain away. Dilmir would be with Eltuthar, she knew it. He wouldn’t be in any elven outpost, where most banished elves went, she knew that much, for he tried to avoid the company of other elves. And hadn’t Eltuthar proven that he didn’t mind a little extra power over and over again? Dilmir would fit in perfectly with him, not least because he was of his line. Doubtless, he was there at this very moment. And if the storms had only started a week ago, that meant that…
Ilrin shuddered. Could Dilmir possibly be following in the footsteps of Eltuthar? Would he?
Ilrin looked up, momentarily surprised to find Iliadin still there, watching her.
“Are you ready to begin?”
Ilrin nodded slowly, her mind still far away.