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.