“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.