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…