There was little more than half an hour of daylight left, judging by the position of the sun. Dilmir whirled around, dodging Ilrin’s sword. The day had been uneventful, save for the fact that it was becoming increasingly harder to control his magic. No matter how much he tried to hold it back, a little too much power seemed to escape him whenever he cast a spell.
Ilrin’s blade glinted in the dying sun as it dove towards him, seeking an unprotected point on his neck. Dilmir flicked his own blade up and met it, twisting around at the same time to avoid it as it came back down.
Dilmir had spent the morning worrying about the elf. The assassin, he had realized. Assassins, hired killers, were not tolerated in Eld’rin. If one was ever found, he would be banished before he could draw a blade. The fact that one had managed to enter Eld’rin and had tried to kill him was disturbing to say the least.
And still, Dilmir had told no one about him, not even Ilrin. Normally, the news of an assassin within Eld’rin would cause soldiers to search the entire city until he was found, but Dilmir had his doubts about what the results would be in his case.
Ilrin had told him that morning the conversation she had overheard yesterday. If the elves thought that he was dangerous, telling them that an assassin had tried to kill him might have unpleasant repercussions. The elves would definitely be in no mood to help him; that was certain.
Dilmir shook his head, trying to clear it. He had been distracted the entire morning, with the result that he had done even worse than usual. The afternoon training was the only chance he had to forget about the problems the other elves created, and lose himself in the duels.
Dilmir focused his attention on the sword before him. He angled his blade upwards, intending to catch Ilrin’s as it descended towards his arm. In that moment, all thoughts but one were driven from his mind.
The assassin, arms folded, a comfortable smile lodged upon his shrouded face, was leaning comfortably against a tree root not fifty yards from where Dilmir stood. His eyes did not move from Dilmir’s face, his serrated sword, almost short enough to be a dagger, obvious beneath his dark cloak. His face was devoid of concern. Dilmir froze, his sword suspended in the air.
An instant later, Ilrin’s blade sliced painfully into his arm, dying its tip crimson, and leaving a deep cut from Dilmir’s wrist to his elbow.
“Oh!” cried Ilrin, the shock evident in her voice as she leapt back and dropped her sword, clearly mortified at what she had done. Elves began training with wooden swords, but after a year, the chance of either of them severely wounding the other was so remote that they trained with real blades. An elf’s reflexes were such that he could stop his sword an inch before it broke the skin of his opponent.
The trainer started forward, a grim expression on his face, but Dilmir, though the pain in his arm was intense, remained staring at the assassin. His smile broadened as he saw Dilmir looking at him, but he made no other movement. He might have been part of the tree against which he rested.
“Athen selar,” said the trainer, placing his palm on Dilmir’s arm. Dilmir looked up just in time to see thin lines of green magic lance from the trainer’s hand and shoot through his arm, mending it in an instant.
“That will be enough for today,” said the trainer firmly, though the sun still had a ways to go before it set. Any other elf might have inquired if Dilmir was injured anywhere else, but the trainer merely turned and walked towards the city, leaving Dilmir and a white Ilrin alone on the field.
“Are you all right?” breathed Ilrin, picking up her sword.
“Fine,” replied Dilmir, a little absently. The assassin still stood, watching him intently.
“That shouldn’t have happened,” said Ilrin, her voice clearly quavering.
Dilmir turned at the sound. She was trying to sheath her sword, but her hands were shaking so badly that she couldn’t replace it in the scabbard. Silently, Dilmir reached out and steadied the sword for her, allowing her to slide it into the leather.
“It’s fine,” he said. “I should have blocked it, I just got distracted.”
Ilrin smiled her gratitude at him, and Dilmir chanced a glance back at the assassin. He still stood there, leaning against the root comfortably. He looked back at Ilrin. She wasn’t there.
Spinning around, he saw her just behind him, walking slowly towards the shape of Eld’rin, fast fading in the dying light. He hurried to catch up with her.
As he fell in beside her, he looked back at the assassin. He had straightened, and was now watching them intently. He turned back.
“Ilrin,” he said, making up his mind. “I need to —”
But Ilrin interrupted him. “My mother wanted me home once training was done, Dilmir,” she said. “She needs my help with some things.”
Dilmir could only look at her. The assassin had said he couldn’t kill Dilmir; it was very possible that he might go after Ilrin instead. Something of his thoughts must have shown on his face, for Ilrin smiled and said, “I’ll see you tomorrow, Dilmir.”
With a final smile, she then departed, heading towards the front gate. Dilmir wanted to call after her, to warn her, but he couldn’t form the words. As if they had a mind of their own, his feet turned, and he watched the assassin.
The elf, arms still folded, followed Ilrin with his eyes until she was out of sight. Then, moving with a deadly sense of purpose, he began to walk after her. He didn’t look right or left, and didn’t spare Dilmir so much as a glance, but remained focused on the point where Ilrin had slipped into the city. As if propelled by an invisible force, Dilmir quickly followed him.
A deep cold seemed to envelope Dilmir as he walked, his eyes intent on the back of the assassin, his mind formulating every means possible of stopping him.
The elf entered the gates easily and strode into Eld’rin, as confident as if he did this every day. Dilmir followed close behind, his breathing short and fast. Ahead, he saw Ilrin turn into the lower district, walking at a comfortable pace, wholly unaware of the procession that followed her. A moment later, the assassin took the same left turn, and Dilmir hastened his steps, lest he lose sight of him.
He need not have feared, however. The assassin’s gait was so steady, that Dilmir wondered briefly if he knew he was being followed. If he did, he didn’t show it. His pace matched that of Ilrin exactly, every step he took was in time with hers, masking his footfalls.
It suddenly dawned on Dilmir just how easy it would be to cause the assassin to turn, to give Ilrin the time to lose him. As far as he knew, he as yet did not know where she lived. All Dilmir would need to do was stop him for a few seconds. Almost without thinking, the magic began to form in his mind. His arm was halfway raised when he lowered it again.
He couldn’t use magic against the assassin; that would be what he wanted. The assassin knew perfectly well that Dilmir followed him, and he was hoping that he would attack him. If he did, he would be banished, and forced to go into the Great Forest, as the assassin had said. If the elves really were as against him as he had suggested, which Dilmir did not find hard to believe, then they would take almost any excuse to be rid of him. The assassin was trying to get him to react. And yet, how could he not, if the assassin decided to do more than just follow Ilrin?
The elf continued his even pace, however, and Dilmir kept his distance. Ilrin soon reached her house, and ducked inside the door. To Dilmir’s horror, the assassin didn’t even break his stride, but headed straight for where she had disappeared. He passed the doorway at the last moment, however, and took a left.
Ilrin’s house was triangular in shape, as many of the lower district dwellings were. It was only one level high, formed by three immensely thick roots which enclosed it, all of which served as walkways for the elves. It was surrounded by countless other houses, all very much like it. Ilrin’s house, as it so happened, was also situated next to a line of small, one room cells. Elves who were awaiting their trial by the council stayed there until they were summoned.
Dilmir, quickening his pace, turned the corner, just in time to see the assassin take another left. His pace was still steady, but he seemed to be bent on something. Dilmir walked quickly down the root, bending low to glance in the windows of Ilrin’s house, making sure he was not observed. He turned the final corner and froze for the second time that day.
The assassin stood, bent forward slightly, staring through a window. All of the houses of the lower district were sunk below the roots that led to them. Their windows were level with the path outside, so that anyone walking by would have to stop, back up, and then hunch slightly to look in. From inside, however, they provided a clear view of anyone outside, as well as offering plenty of daylight from the sky above.
The windows were naturally dark, so that everything seen through them from outside the house was shadowy and blurred, but Dilmir felt that the assassin could see through them perfectly. The windows, after all, were merely enchantments, hovering in place, designed to keep cold out and heat in.
As he watched, Dilmir suddenly realized which window the assassin was watching. He had been in Ilrin’s home only the previous night, and had not forgotten the design of her home. As if to confirm his suspicion, he saw a shape flit past the window; Ilrin was in her room.
The assassin gazed through the enchantment intently, making no move, but watching all that happened within.
Dilmir, without knowing, slowly began to form a fist with his right hand, feeling magic course through his veins, yearning to be let out against the elf, but he held it in check. He couldn’t lose control.
Dark thoughts rushed through his mind, and he was surprised when a low muttering escaped him: “Get away from her window.” He silenced himself at once, but the assassin, though he could not have possibly heard him, whipped about and faced Dilmir in an instant. Before Dilmir could react, the assassin smiled knowingly at him, and stepped backward, melting into the wood.
Dilmir rearranged himself against the hard wood of the root. His back was sore from leaning against it, but he didn’t move from his position. A full moon glowed silently overhead, its light rendering the scene a peaceful one, lit with a soft glow. It washed Ilrin’s home in white, striking the window, which let it in to reveal that all was dark inside.
Dilmir shivered momentarily against the cold, and then settled himself again against the rough bark. Only now did he appreciate how uncomfortable it must have been for the assassin to watch him and Ilrin train.
It had been two hours since the assassin had left, but Dilmir didn’t, wouldn’t, trust him to leave Ilrin alone. Fortunately, no one had seen him here, for it would not look well if he was spotted watching someone else’s home. However, he wouldn’t have left if anyone had seen him anyway.
A cricket chirped drowsily nearby; the night seemed strangely silent to Dilmir. His aunt would begin to worry about him, especially if he stayed here much longer. He had been home late before, but never by this much without telling her where he was going.
A bank of clouds scurried suddenly across the moon, hiding its brilliance and plunging Dilmir into semi-darkness. Dilmir sighed, but rose and made his way around to the front of Ilrin’s home. Still shrouded in the absence of the moon’s rays, he placed his palm softly on the wall, grown smoothly from the root on which he stood. “Ensir aniliim ethen ner aser aniliim eld’sudern as’nelikath,” he breathed, infusing the words with his magic. A brilliant blue glow suddenly lit up the wall from beneath Dilmir’s palm, and he glanced behind him to make sure no one had seen, but the next moment it was gone, and Dilmir could feel his enchantment within the wood of the house, pulsing through it. It would dissipate when morning came.
As the moon returned, its light undiminished, Dilmir turned, and began on his way back through the roots. He soon found his way, and quickened his pace until he was nearly running, not wanting to keep his aunt waiting any longer.
He dashed through the roots, almost lost his way twice, but soon found himself in front of his house. It was then that his heart nearly stopped.
The assassin stood, just inside the doorway, examining it as if checking for cracks in the wood. He turned as Dilmir skidded to a halt. His face broke into a wide grin, and stepping sideways, he melted into the wood, leaving the door dark. Dilmir didn’t wait another second, but rushed into his home.