Dilmir whirled around, and saw the shining edge of a blade descending rapidly towards his head. He frantically brought his sword up to meet it, but at the last moment, the blade twisted, as if alive, and snaked under his guard. In another instant, he felt the cold metal reach his neck.
The two combatants broke apart. Dilmir took a few staggering steps backwards, his breathing fast. His opponent, a tall elf with a strong build, waited for him.
The two elves stood upon a small grassy plateau. Large boulders, dark gray and moss-covered, scattered behind them, their rough shapes forming the horizon. On Dilmir’s left, the plateau dropped away suddenly, revealing an incredible view of the Great Forest, far below. On his right, a building rose, formed of columns and flowing trees. Beyond the building, the mountain on which they stood continued upwards, its jagged peak stretching to pierce the sky.
The air was clear and fresh, and the sun sent its rays down from overhead. The calls of birds drifted upwards from the trees below, lending the place a set apart, yet beautiful setting.
The part of the building closest to Dilmir was a balcony, fanning out onto the grass in a half circle. It was ringed by columns, and five steps flowed around its base, the final one slipping smoothly into the ground. Upon this balcony, his dark cloak discarded, stood Eltuthar, carefully observing the two elves before him. As they broke apart, he descended the steps, and approached Dilmir.
With the full sun shining on his face, he didn’t look quite as old and frail as he had in the forest. His hair was steel gray, no hint of white or his former black in it, and his face was creased with many lines, but his eyes sparkled with new life.
“Dilmir,” he said, coming to a halt before him, “I see that you are better than most elves your age. However, you need to learn to use all that you possess, and to use it to the full.”
Dilmir nodded, still out of breath. Eltuthar’s followers, the Eth Aniliim, or the Dark Elves as the inhabitants of Eld’rin called them, had proved to be far more adept at the blade than he had thought. Eltuthar had trained them well, and dueling one of them was not proving easy.
“You know how to block a sword,” continued Eltuthar, offering Dilmir a hand and helping him to stand, “no matter which way it turns, and you have the speed to do so. At the same time, you also have the knowledge to get past your opponent’s defenses, and the agility to carry it out. Put these things together, and you will become a swordsman none can defeat.”
Dilmir nodded again, facing his opponent. “He’s too fast,” he said, so that only Eltuthar could hear. “I can’t get away from his blade fast enough.”
Eltuthar smiled in a peculiar way that only he could. “I heard tell that you have had to deal with quick opponents before though. Overcome him the same way you did them.” He withdrew.
Dilmir frowned at his blade. It was true; he had faced a quick opponent many times before: Her name was Ilrin. He swallowed and tried to clear his mind. Thinking about Ilrin was painful.
He looked up at his opponent, who was drawing small circles in the air with the tip of his sword, waiting for him.
“Ready?” Felnir asked.
Dilmir nodded, still unable to keep Ilrin from his thoughts. He would have never guessed that he would be the next person to duel Felnir after she had.
Felnir planted his feet, his unwavering gaze latching onto Dilmir’s posture. Dilmir quickly assumed a defensive stance, and forced himself to watch Felnir’s blade. The shining edge of metal glinted in the morning sun, sending reflected beams dancing off of it.
With the suddenness of a bolt of lightning, Felnir leapt forward, his blade held at his side, ready to either strike or block at a moment’s notice.
Dilmir waited until the precise moment, and then rolled to his right. Felnir twisted in midair, trying to catch him with his sword, but his momentum carried him past. He landed solidly on his feet a few yards away, and settled into another defensive stance.
Dilmir circled about him warily, so that their positions were switched. It unnerved him how agile and controlled all of Felnir’s movements were. No matter how high he jumped, or which way he twisted, he always landed on his feet. His blade seemed to know where Dilmir was at any given moment, and seek out his unprotected points. However, Felnir was not Ilrin. His strength lay in offense, not defense. If Dilmir brought the attack to him, he could likely win.
In another moment, Felnir dropped to the ground and rolled towards him with uncanny speed. Dilmir leapt over his revolving form, deflecting the blade that snaked up towards him, and landed behind him. Or, at least he tried to.
He landed heavily on one foot, and lost his balance. Felnir whirled around, intending to strike him down, but Dilmir, taking advantage of his unbalance, dropped to the ground and rolled away. Felnir leapt after him, blade poised, but Dilmir, in an instant, jumped to his feet and deflected the blow. Felnir, however, was a master of dueling at close quarters, and whipped his sword about, pushing Dilmir’s away from him, and then finding his neck with a glint of steel.
Eltuthar stepped forward. “You did a little better that time, Dilmir,” he said, “but you still have much to learn. I think that’s enough for now, however.”
Felnir nodded and withdrew his blade, slipping it into the black leather sheath on his back. All of the Eth Aniliim carried two swords, instead of the one of the council’s army. Their swords were slightly shorter, but had much longer handles, all of them crafted from wood. Dilmir couldn’t see what use this could be, but Eltuthar had promised to tell him soon enough.
As Felnir ascended the steps to the balcony and entered the building, Dilmir, his breathing still heavy, walked towards a bench and leaned against it. Eltuthar had wanted to see his skill with the blade, but the test had left him exhausted.
The seat flowed out from the wall of the building, a shallow pool of water between it and the wood. A stream of water fell into the pool from overhead, filling the air with its pleasant splashing.
Dilmir sat, and, after a moment, Eltuthar came to the bench and sat down as well. For a space they remained there, watching the view and listening to the pool. Then Eltuthar turned and asked, “How much have you heard of me, Dilmir?”
Dilmir took his time in replying. Eltuthar lived so high up on the mountain that the air was considerably thinner. Dilmir, who was not used to such conditions, was still breathing with difficulty after the duel. “Not much,” he finally said after a moment. “I heard of you from my father, of course, and I read of your deeds when I first came to Eld’rin.”
Eltuthar nodded. “I fear very few elves have heard my side of the tale. The others would have you believe that I was a power-obsessed sorcerer who tried to overthrow the king, but that is only because they dare not reveal my true intentions.”
Dilmir looked up, intrigued. Eltuthar had always been a shadowy figure haunting his past, even if he was the head of his line. What Dilmir had learned of him had been part truth, part rumor, and part fear, but very rarely solid fact. Eltuthar sat back, closed his eyes, and spoke.
“I started out like you,” he said. “I was eager to learn the ways of the elves at Eld’rin. Unfortunately, fate had other plans for me. Soon after arriving, I began to realize that I could use magic differently from the other elves. I could do more with it, control it better, force it to do my will when the others could merely influence it. By the time they began training me in its ways, I had already figured most of its nature out for myself. I spent my free time exploring it further. By the time I was your age, I had gone further in the field of magic than even Sonlen, who was, as you know, alive at that time.”
Eltuthar paused, opening his eyes to gaze out over the cliff towards the Great Forest.
“And then,” he said slowly, continuing, “I tried to show what I had discovered to my friends. That was, I fear, a mistake. Most of the elves were interested, but when one of them tried to copy me, he got severely injured. I healed him easily of course, but that incident made clear to me that I was the only one that could wield this power. The elf’s interest was not dampened in the slightest, but the council, which had already been disturbed by my excessive use of spells, took the opportunity to get me out of the city. They banished me without a second thought. I couldn’t allow this to get in the way of what I had discovered, however. I had sensed the true potential of magic, and I vowed never to rest until I had found a way to let the other elves feel it as well.
“I came here,” he said, gesturing about him, “and built Arath Imil, My Sanctuary. As they completed their training, the elves that I had shown my knowledge to came here as well. Or, at least most of them did. Alfimir, who had at first shown interest in my ways, took the side of the council, and, knowing what I wanted to do, swore to stop me.”
“Why?” interrupted Dilmir. “All you wanted to do was show the elves their true potential.”
“In my eyes, yes,” said Eltuthar. “But to the council, I was power-hungry, and sought only to overthrow the king. At least that was their excuse. All they saw was that I was gathering followers, followers which were more loyal to me than to them. They stated that my knowledge of power, if spread, would only inspire wars and misery. Unfortunately, they were right.”
Eltuthar paused again, and gazed for a long time over the cliff, in the direction that Dilmir knew Eld’rin lay.
“I couldn’t stop, however,” he said. “I had no intention of overthrowing the king or the council, I only sought to show the elves what they could do. With those that joined me, I probed deeper into the ways of magic, looking, searching for the clue that I knew must be there. I found many things, most of which, doubtless, Sonlen or anyone else had never dreamed of, but I didn’t find what I was seeking. Nothing that I discovered would allow the other elves to wield the power that I had found. Unfortunately, those that had come with me had not been banished as well, and were still free to return to Eld’rin whenever they pleased. When they went, as they did from time to time, the other elves saw their use of power and become interested. I gained even more followers.”
“I thought they couldn’t use your power, though,” objected Dilmir.
“No,” said Eltuthar, “but I had discovered the true nature of enchantments in my search, a knowledge which enabled me to give them abilities far beyond any other elf. They still couldn’t use my magic, but they were more powerful than any normal elf – though Sonlen could have easily beaten any one of them had he had a mind to. It was this power, this affinity to magic, that the others found appealing. They were soon flocking to my little sanctuary by the droves. Unfortunately, most of them were very young, some younger than you are now, and their parents, who were content with what they had, were displeased that my ways had driven their sons and daughters from their training. They complained to the council, and the council, in turn, ordered me to stop my teachings. Having banished me, they had no power over me, and even if they had, I would not have stopped my research. Nonetheless, I explained the situation to my new followers, and told them to go back; that when their training was complete, then they would be free to study the ways of magic. Most of them took my advice, though reluctantly, but a few stayed despite what I had said. And then, I had a breakthrough.
“You know, Dilmir,” said Eltuthar, turning to him, “how one can only enchant that which lives, how magic can only be woven into living things?”
“I found that magic has affinity to one other thing: Energy. I could enchant energy, and that meant I could place magic anywhere on Feylund. The sudden restrictions that so hampered the elves dissolved before my eyes. Distracted, for once, from my search, I began to experiment.”
Eltuthar closed his eyes and leaned his head back. “I remember,” he said, his voice distant, “the first time I tried it. I had just discovered the truth; it was still dark. I stood here, at the very edge of this cliff, and bent the world to my will. Rain fell at my slightest touch, thunder echoed through the heavens at my word, and clouds grew and dispersed as I motioned them to do so. I could feel, finally, the magic of all Feylund at my call. The other elves, of course, could learn this, as it was merely a principle which had never been discovered before. I made plans to show them my findings.
“If only,” Eltuthar said, the radiance of his recollection leaving his face, “If only I had stopped then, and returned to my search. If only I had not gotten carried away.” There was a moment of silence as he reflected on the past.
“I did, however,” he said after a moment, resuming his tale. “I was so absorbed in my discovery that I rushed to show the others what was possible. Not able to enter Eld’rin myself, I sent my followers to spread the word. Almost instantly, all of my old pupils came flooding back, eager to learn what I had discovered.
“This was too much for the council. They could not tolerate the fact that I could drain Eld’rin of a quarter of its population at a moment’s notice, and the fact that I was showing them how to wield greater power than they could was the final straw. They sent Sonlen to end my teachings, by force if necessary. I explained to him what I was trying to do. He seemed to understand my motives, but he remained firmly on the side of the council just the same. He ordered the elves to return to Eld’rin, and he ordered me to stop teaching them. He reasoned that if what I did had repercussions on the inhabitants of Eld’rin, the council could still issue me commands, even though I was banished. Preposterous, of course. They had absolved me from their laws quite easily, and I had very little reason to obey them.
“If my followers had left, everything might have worked out even then. I would have continued my studies, and the elves would have been content. Unfortunately, several of them, a good number, actually, doubtless inspired by their new power, defied Sonlen and the council, and remained. Even I told them go, but still, they stayed. And then something that I had not foreseen happened.
“Those that had returned began using their newfound power. Their use of it frightened the council. They were sure now that I was training an army in some form of dark magic to take over Eld’rin. That is when they started calling us Dark Elves. I didn’t mind, I would have resumed my research, but my pupils were less than pleased about the separation the others were treating them with. Treated as some sort of traitors, they began, slowly at first, and then more quickly, to come back to me, where they could perfect their skill. I had asked them to leave enough times, I couldn’t ask them again. The council sent me a message, warning me that if I did not cease my practices and disperse my followers, they would do it for me. I sent back a message equally as absolute, saying that they had no right to meddle in my affairs, and to leave me alone. I had grown tired of orders, none of which I had to follow, as I wasn’t under their rule any longer. I suppose I should have done what I had already done twice, and sent my followers back, but that message was too much. Shortly afterwards, I received word that the elves were training, preparing an army, readying themselves to force me to stop, and to summon their fellow elves back to Eld’rin. I had no choice. My followers began to arm themselves. I watched as the one thing the council had said my discoveries would do happened before my eyes. Almost overnight, I had gained an army nearly a thousand strong, more powerful than any on Feylund. They made me their general, and I, unwilling but unable to deny them, complied. When Sonlen came to meet us at the head of the council’s army, Alfimir on his right, I met him. I pleaded with him to stop this senselessness, that I was only trying to help the elves, not rule them, but he, though he seemed once again to understand, would not hear me. Unable to convince him, we returned to our armies to do battle.
“The rest you know,” said Eltuthar, standing. “We battled, our two armies, and far too much elven blood was spilt that day. The field where we met was dyed crimson for weeks after that confrontation. Sonlen and I met in the middle of the field, and one of the greatest duels that Feylund has yet witnessed took place. In the end, though, he defeated me. He possessed some strange form of magic that I had not discovered, and with it, cast a foul curse upon me, draining me of all my power. I could still, and still can, influence the magic about me, but my own is gone. I can store magic, a thing I will soon show you, but to use it causes me great pain, as you saw in the forest.
“Unless I am much mistaken, Dilmir,” said Eltuthar, looking at him, “you possess the same power that I once did. You are, indeed, me all over again.”
Eltuthar paused, considering Dilmir. “I only hope,” he said, half to himself, “your tale does not end as did mine.”