Mist boiled as the slanting rays of the new sun struck it. The light was red, tinted with a bloody glow. Such a sunrise was usually considered a sign of ill fortune or great disaster soon to come amongst the elves, but Ilrin paid it little mind as she walked.
She had stayed up far longer than she usually did, helping her mother, and was still tired as a result. The mist that clung about her did nothing to wake her, though its cool touch caressed her face many a time, leaving small, shimmering drops of dew in her hair as she walked.
The call only woke her partially, and she turned about, confused in the fog that bound her so tightly from the rest of Eld’rin. “Ilrin!” came the call again. “What?” asked Ilrin into the mists, her sleep still weighing heavily on her voice.
Out from the swirling fog emerged a dark shape, the figure of an elf. He drew closer, and soon resolved into Aldir, an elf two years older than Ilrin, who was nearing the end of his training. There was something in his face that Ilrin couldn’t quite place, though she thought he looked rather tense.
“I’m late, Ilrin,” he said, speaking rapidly, “but I have to talk with you. Will you come with me to the sanctuary this evening, after training?”
Ilrin gazed a little unfocusedly at him as the sleep slowly drained from her. The sanctuary was a place within Eld’rin enclosed by tall roots. Grass grew there, and several tall trees cast their shade over the area. It was a quiet and calming place, and was where elves went should they need to relax… or be unheard.
Still, Ilrin saw no reason to not accept. “Alright,” she said, a little blankly. She could not see why Aldir had asked this of her.
“As ihr selenar imil,Ilrin,” said Aldir, bowing slightly towards her. “I’ll be waiting for you outside the gate when the sun touches the horizon.” Ilrin nodded, and Aldir left, his form quickly swallowed up by the fog.
Ilrin resumed walking, her confusion covered mostly by her sleep. She had never really noticed Aldir before, even though he trained only a short distance away from her in the afternoon.
She slowly made her way down the root, tracing the familiar path. Even Dilmir, who had been down here often enough, could not have found his way in the fog. Soon, she reached the center of Eld’rin, and peered across the intervening space towards where Dilmir usually waited for her. He was not there.
In another moment, however, he came walking out of the fog, his shoulders hunched, his eyes downcast. He looked up, saw her, and without pausing, turned towards the gate, slowing his pace so that she could catch up.
“Morning,” he said as she approached. He sounded, if possible, even more tired than she felt.
“Morning,” replied Ilrin, looking at him curiously. In all the years she had known him, he had always been waiting for her. No matter how early she rose, he had been at the center of Eld’rin first. Until today.
Dilmir snapped awake so suddenly and thoroughly that Ilrin actually felt a wave of magic escape him. She drew back, a little uncertainly, but Dilmir was not looking at her. His eyes were instead fixed on a point next to the gates, which were slowly unfurling as they approached.
Ilrin followed his gaze, but saw nothing out of the ordinary. A few elves milled about, and one with a dark cloak and a short sword in his belt leaned against a root watching them approach, but she saw nothing else. She looked back at Dilmir. He was staring intently at the elf with the sword.
“Do you know him?” asked Ilrin, motioning towards the elf.
Dilmir started and glanced at her. “No,” he said, looking back at the elf, “I just thought I did.”
Nonetheless, he allowed Ilrin to pull ahead of him, and then came up on her other side, so that he was between her and the elf. Ilrin was confused, but made no comment. She saw the elf watch them as they passed through the gate, however, and an uneasy feeling started to grow within her as she felt his eyes on her back.
The day passed quickly. Iliadin showed Ilrin the use of fire spells, and how to conjure up a shield of flame which would surround the caster. It was of little use against elves, as it was too easily negated, but wolves would flee from it, making it very useful in the Great Forest.
Ilrin learned quickly, but she couldn’t help but glance over at Dilmir from time to time. None of the other elves could, either, for that matter. His episode with the tree had not been forgotten, and Ilrin felt that it would be a long time before it would be.
Dilmir, however, seemed to be having far more trouble than he had on that day. He was constantly glancing towards Eld’rin, and seemed incapable of forming the right counterspells. In addition, what spells he did manage to cast usually came out far more powerful than they should have. Ilrin couldn’t understand why he was so unfocused until, following his gaze, she saw the same elf that had been at the gate leaning calmly against a tree root not far from where she stood. He was doing nothing, but there was no mistaking that it was he who Dilmir kept watching. Ilrin could see nothing distracting about him, save that he was watching Dilmir with the same fascination that the Dark Elves did. And yet he wasn’t a Dark Elf, Ilrin could see that plainly enough. No red emblem was visible on his tunic, which was a dark green rather than black.
Dilmir’s distraction soon spread to Ilrin. She barely avoided being struck by a spell she was supposed to be countering, and after that, she focused more on Iliadin, though she still couldn’t help herself from glancing at Dilmir from time to time.
The rest of the morning passed quickly, and soon Ilrin was to be found entering Eld’rin, Dilmir at her side. She saw him, out of the corner of her eye, glance over his shoulder. Curious, she looked back as well, and saw the elf begin to follow them.
She turned back, but not before Dilmir saw that her head had turned. He said nothing, however, and they continued on in silence.
The elf did not leave them alone. Ilrin, coming back from lunch, found him waiting once again at the gate, a placid smile on his face. He followed her and Dilmir to the training field, where he assumed a comfortable position against a nearby root, and settled to watch.
Ilrin was distracted by the elf, but not nearly as much as Dilmir. He was constantly looking over at him, forgetting what he was doing.
The duels were no better. Ilrin defeated Dilmir as she hadn’t in days. He barely blocked her once or twice before she disarmed him. Worse still, he seemed nearly unaware that he was losing. Every chance he had, he glanced towards the elf. Finally, Ilrin could stand it no longer.
“Dilmir!” she hissed. His name, though whispered, made him turn around. He had been looking at the elf, leaving his entire side unguarded. “What are you doing?” whispered Ilrin, taking advantage of his moment of concentration.
Dilmir looked slightly confused, so Ilrin jerked her head almost imperceptibly towards the elf. Their trainer was watching curiously. “You’re hardly trying to block my attacks, and I have yet to block any of yours,” whispered Ilrin.
Dilmir looked up at her.
“What’s wrong, Dilmir?” she asked, in a softer tone.
Dilmir glanced towards the elf, and then the trainer, both watching him with odd expressions on their faces. Then he turned back to Ilrin. “I can’t tell you here, Ilrin,” he said. “I’ll tell you once we’re done.”
Ilrin looked at him, her eyes searching his. After a moment, she nodded, and flicked her sword up. Dilmir gave the elf a final glance, and then settled into his usual defensive position. In another moment, Ilrin attacked, but this time, her sword was met by Dilmir’s.
Blades flashed in the dying sun. An ominous red glow bathed the training field and the elves sparring upon it. Within Eld’rin, ancient elves, keepers of scrolls and untold records, looked fearfully at the sun. Such an omen could not be misinterpreted. Something dark was at work, and would come to pass before the night was finished.
The sun, however, was far from either Ilrin’s or Dilmir’s thoughts. They were engaged in what was surely their longest duel yet. It had already been going on for nearly ten minutes, and both of them, having already trained for nearly five hours, were getting tired.
Their blades had battled back and forth, sometimes pressing in relentlessly, sometimes warding off the other’s attacks. For once, neither could seem to get the upper hand. Dilmir had tried every trick he new of, and by the looks of it, so had Ilrin.
The assassin still reclined against the root, but Dilmir had decided that as long as he was here, and nowhere else, he couldn’t hurt anyone. This left him to concentrate on his duels, and glance at the assassin only between them.
Dilmir whirled his sword down and then up to escape what was surely Ilrin’s twentieth attempt to disarm him. Their swords came up in a lock, each wrapped around the other.
For a moment, they struggled to break the other’s grip, but all that happened was that Dilmir succeeded in driving their blades higher, so that their arms stretched to the sky.
If this had been a real duel, they would have drawn daggers and commenced fighting behind their backs, but the trainer stepped forward.
“Enough,” he said. “Lower your weapons. Dilmir, I think you’ve at last become as skilled as Ilrin. Ilrin, you are to be commended; not many elves could last that long in a duel.” Ilrin smiled briefly in the fading rays of the red sun. “And now,” said the trainer, “I think we should stop. You have both done excellently today.”
He turned and walked away, Dilmir’s eyes on his back. He had never paid him a compliment before. He turned to Ilrin, after checking to make sure that the assassin was still there, only to find her staring at the ground.
Her eyes were fixed on the last shred of sunlight as it faded from the grass, returning it to its natural green hue. “A red sunset,” she whispered.
Dilmir glanced down. Only now did he notice that the light was the deepest of crimsons. “Don’t worry,” he said, himself unconvinced.
The dwarves laughed at the elves’ superstitions, but the elves knew them to be true. There hadn’t been a red sunset or sunrise where ill news hadn’t reached them before the night was out.
Silently, Dilmir took Ilrin’s hand and led her away from the training field. The red light seemed to follow them as they walked, until it was at last swallowed by forbidding shadows. Ilrin pulled away as the gate came into view.
“I have to go,” she said, surprising Dilmir. “Alone,” she added, at his look.
Dilmir would have liked to ask why, but he knew better than to do so. What Ilrin did was her own business. He watched as she made her way towards the gate. He glanced behind him, but the assassin, for once, was gone.
As he watched, Ilrin slowed before an elf that seemed to be waiting for her at the gate. Dilmir couldn’t see his face, but he thought he recognized his figure from the training field. The two of them talked for a moment, but then they entered Eld’rin, the elf, Dilmir saw, leading Ilrin by the hand.
In that moment, a shape flickered across Dilmir’s vision. A moment later, the assassin slid smoothly through the gates. Dilmir’s mind seemed to jam. The assassin was moving fast and crouching, as if he wished to remain unseen. Dilmir knew of only one reason he would move thus.
The chill of the night air leaving him as his heart pounded against his ribs, Dilmir ran to the gate, just in time to see the assassin turn into the giant tree on the right. Ignoring the milling elves, Dilmir rushed to the tree and skidded inside. The assassin was nowhere to be seen.
He did see Ilrin, however, led by the elf, whom he now recognized as Aldir, who was a couple of years older than she. He had seen Aldir from time to time, but never met him. What was he doing?
Intrigued, but also worried lest the assassin ambush them unawares, he followed the two of them. Walking slowly, they made their way towards the sanctuary. Dilmir stopped. He had a very bad feeling about this. It was dark and quiet in the sanctuary, full of shadows and perfect hiding places. Ilrin had seen the assassin, though she didn’t know she was being followed. Still, what could she possibly be thinking? Dilmir resumed his steps.
It was cool under the massive trees of the sanctuary. Night breezes, channeled by the twisting roots, played gently across the leaves far overhead, creating a soothing sound that permeated the air. The grass underfoot was soft, and yielded a silent footstep. Ilrin and Aldir walked quietly towards a large tree in the center of the sanctuary, not speaking. Together, they sat against its rough trunk, and Dilmir, not wanting to be seen, crouched behind another.
There was no assassin to be seen in the shadows, though Dilmir searched long and hard. He was nearly convinced that the sanctuary held no threat, and was about to sneak back out, when he heard Aldir’s voice.
He couldn’t hear the words, but Aldir was murmuring something to Ilrin. Glancing over at them, Dilmir saw Aldir leaning towards Ilrin, whispering something in her ear. What held Dilmir’s concealed gaze, however, was the look on Ilrin’s face. She looked pleased, immensely so, but also a little surprised. Covering it all, however, was an extremely peculiar expression that Dilmir could not quite explain. She wore a half smile, but her eyes seemed to frown into the grass at her feet.
Suddenly, catching both Dilmir and Ilrin by surprise, Aldir shifted his position, moving closer to Ilrin. She looked at him, a little uncertainly, but he said nothing. Dilmir’s heart seemed to be beating exceptionally slowly. He had the sudden knowledge that he didn’t want to see what came next, but he had no choice. In an instant, Aldir had reached out a finger, and, very lightly, very softly, touched Ilrin’s hair.
Power exploded out of Dilmir like a burst of lightning. Green magic shot, quite independent of his thought, and yet somehow driven by a deeper part of him, from his fingers towards the sky. Dilmir was vaguely aware of his control over the magic, though he had said nothing. It seemed to obey his every whim. The trouble was, his whims were not of his creating. Before he knew what was happening, he had risen to his feet, his arm outstretched, and thin threads of light had lanced to the tree above Aldir. The magic found a branch, and severed it with a sound like a whip crack. Aldir looked up, but the tree limb was already half way to the ground.
Still not quite sure what he had done, Dilmir looked at Ilrin. Too late, he saw that she had pulled away from Aldir’s touch. And then, everything changed.
The branch landed with a terrible splintering, directly where Aldir would have been, had he not rolled out of the way at the last moment. Ilrin leapt aside, her face lit by the green glow that surrounded the branch.
Dilmir looked down at his hands. They were pulsing with green light, and he could feel power throbbing in his ears. Magic coursed through him, controlling him more than he it. He looked up just in time to see Aldir, shock on his face, staring at him.
What have I done?