Chapter Nine – A Narrow Escape

“So,” Endir said, idly staring at a nearby root as he thought, “you can’t control the spells these elves cast… what about them? Their own magic? Can you feel that?”

Dilmir shook his head. “Slippery like the spells,” he said.

“Hmm.”

“If you can’t control them or their spells,” Inilidin said, “then you have to focus on what you can control: what’s around them, what’s around you.”

Dilmir nodded. They were all sitting in their usual spot near the upper quarter, Dilmir having related the day’s events. He was leaning against a root, still trying to process everything which had happened. Ilrin was sitting on the ground, unusually quiet, clearly thinking. Only Inilidin and Endir had spoken.

“Inilidin’s right,” Endir said. “What you need is… a shield.” He looked up. “That’s it, Dilmir. You can enchant energy, right? Enchant the air around you. Make a barrier no spell can penetrate.”

Dilmir considered the idea. It was a good idea, except…

“They adapt though,” he said. “These Asdelarcen, they’ve been testing me. It’s obvious now. Every time I escape one of their traps, they find a way to keep me from doing the same thing again. They obviously know things about magic I don’t. I don’t even know if Eltuthar could explain everything they’ve done. I don’t know if a simple shield is going to stop them.”

“Worth a shot,” Endir said.

“I agree,” Ilrin said, finally looking up. Dilmir looked at her. “Inilidin’s right,” she said. “You have to focus on what you can control. These Asdelarcen – you don’t know what they’re going to try next. You might not have time to react, but a shield could allow you to prepare now.”

“What if they don’t use spells next time though?” Dilmir asked. “What if—”

“They aren’t like you,” Ilrin interrupted. Dilmir looked at her, surprised. “You don’t use spells,” she said. “They do.”

Her ability to guess what he was thinking was uncanny. “What about the one we spoke to, though?” he said. “He teleported. No Cursed elf can do that.”

“He didn’t teleport,” Ilrin said. “I’ve seen you and Eltuthar do it, when I was at Arath Imil. It was loud, and there was a blinding light.”

Dilmir considered this. It was true: he had never seen what it looked like when someone teleported. “Then where did he go?” he asked.

“Hiding?” Endir suggested. “You said you could still feel that the tree was slippery – maybe he was right next to it and you just couldn’t tell, since they were both slippery.”

Dilmir paused. “That… actually makes sense,” he said. So the Asdelarcen had been right there the whole time, hoping Dilmir wouldn’t bother to look. They were cleverer than he had thought. But at least they weren’t like him, Uncursed. Ilrin had a point. They kept using spells, and elves just didn’t need to do that if they were Uncursed.

“So this shield,” Endir said, “what should it do?”

“Block everything possible,” Ilrin said. “Definitely everything the Asdelarcen have used so far.”

Dilmir listened to them, an odd sense of trepidation growing in him. They were all taking this a lot better than he was. The Asdelarcen’s words still haunted him: ‘Greater magic draws greater foes’. This wasn’t the Council, or even Alfimir. This was something else, something Dilmir knew nothing about.

“Dilmir?” Ilrin said, snapping him out of his thoughts. “The shield. You need to make it.”

“Right,” Dilmir said. “Sorry.”

Creating the shield took at least two hours. The three of them kept coming up with more and more additions, speculating endlessly on what the Asdelarcen might do. First the shield had to block fire. Then it had to block spells the Asdelarcen might use. Then they realized that the Asdelarcen might be able to just counter it like a spell, and they had to add in counter-measures to specifically guard against that. And so it went, on and on, the three of them trying to think of every possible addition to the shield. Dilmir added everything they suggested, but his trepidation only increased. He had gotten too used to being in control. Now that he had encountered something he wasn’t familiar with, he felt vulnerable.

Eventually they exhausted all possible ideas for the shield. Dilmir replicated what they had done three times, one shield each for Ilrin, Inilidin, and Endir. The Asdelarcen seemed to be focused on him, but they had shown that they didn’t care if he was with anyone when they attacked. Better for them all to have shields. By then, it was almost midnight. Endir and Inilidin departed, and Dilmir walked Ilrin back to the Lower Quarter.

He felt the new shield around himself as he walked back. It was an odd feeling, having a sheath of magic surrounding him. He felt confident it would block any attack from a Cursed elf – indeed, he wished he had thought of this idea long ago. But with the Asdelarcen, he just couldn’t be sure. They seemed to know things about magic they shouldn’t.

He and Ilrin parted, and he returned home, shutting the door softly and moving quietly to his bedroom. Aimim had long since gone to sleep, and he didn’t want to wake her.

Aimim. She was in danger too, as long as he was in her home. Dilmir silently stood in the hallway and stretched his magic out over the house, quickly locating Aimim. He replicated his shield again, placing it around her. She wouldn’t be able to tell it was there – Cursed elves couldn’t feel magic outside of themselves like he could – but that didn’t matter. It would keep her safe. Hopefully.

Satisfied that he had done all he could, Dilmir crept to his bed, undressed, and lay down, pulling the blanket up to his shoulders. He closed his eyes, but sleep wouldn’t come. His magic was as restless as his mind, stretching over Aimim’s house and beyond, tense, ready, searching for any sign of the Asdelarcen or their magic.

They aren’t in Eld’rin, Dilmir told himself. Every attack has been outside in the forest. It must be too dangerous for them here. The Council or Alfimir would probably catch them if they entered the city.

His thoughts didn’t make him feel any better. Eventually, he entered a fitful sleep, his dreams ebbing and flowing with his magic. He woke up several times, convinced his magic had felt something, or that he had heard some sound, but every time there was nothing there.

After what felt like hours, Dilmir woke, and saw that the sky outside was a predawn shade of gray. He got and dressed, feeling drained and exhausted. He could tell this would be a long day.

Aimim was waiting for him with breakfast. Neither of them spoke as they ate. Dilmir had told Aimim what had happened in the forest, and he could tell that she was worried.

“It’s all right, Aunt,” he said. “The Council has forbidden training in the forest until they’re sure it’s safe. We’ll all be out in front of Eld’rin, and there’ll be mages there too, just in case.”

It was true. Dilmir doubted the Council would have taken the threat so seriously if he had been attacked alone, but they couldn’t ignore Erundil. He was a respected elder. Therefore, the forest was being scoured by mages as they spoke, and the Council had commissioned a handful to stand guard while the elves trained.

Aimim nodded at his words, but still looked worried. She kept glancing out of the window, where the early morning mist still covered everything. To be honest, Dilmir wasn’t much reassured either. If he could barely escape the attacks of the Asdelarcen, were Council mages really going to be that much help?

Breakfast was over quickly. Dilmir pulled on the woolen overshirt Aimim offered him, donned a cloak for good measure, and opened the front door. Mist pooled just beyond it, the ground disappearing quickly in a white haze. Everywhere Dilmir looked there was mist. It seemed as if the house was alone in it, isolated, trapped in a field of white uncertainty. Dilmir spread his magic outwards, but felt nothing.

“Be careful,” Aimim said, standing behind him.

“I will be,” Dilmir said. And then, even though his trepidation was again mounting, he stepped out into the mist. Aimim’s house was instantly swallowed up, and Dilmir was left to walk alone, the dense fog silent and unmoving.

Dilmir’s magic told him no one was nearby as he walked, but he still couldn’t keep from sticking to the houses as he passed them, peering around each corner. The mist was thicker than he had ever seen it, a sure sign of snow soon to come. It thinned a bit as he approached the middle of Eld’rin, allowing him to see the Lower Quarter beyond. There the mist was the thickest, hanging over the roots like a silent cloak.

He didn’t have to wait long. Ilrin soon appeared, walking quickly through the mist. She looked almost as tired as Dilmir felt, and he guessed that she hadn’t slept much either.

“Anything?” she asked as she came up.

“Nothing,” Dilmir replied.

Ilrin nodded. “They wouldn’t come here,” she reasoned. “Not into Eld’rin.” It was the same thing Dilmir had told himself. She didn’t sound any more convinced than he had been.

Together, they walked towards the gate, the silent mist finally dissipating as they moved further away from the Lower Quarter. Other elves joined them, also going to training, but they were unusually silent. No one knew what to make of the attacks.

Beyond the gate, it was just as Dilmir had described to Aimim: the field was already full of elves, since the forest was currently unsafe. Council mages, at least ten, ringed the field, standing at regular intervals, watching everything which happened. Dilmir looked to his left, and saw Alfimir there, leaning against a root, watching as well. Dilmir wasn’t sure if that made him feel safer or not.

Dilmir spotted Elmir in their usual depression of grass. Eledim, Ilrin’s trainer, was waiting for her closer to the forest, right next to one of the Council mages.

“Be careful,” he said to Ilrin.

“You too,” she said. Then she left, heading for Eledim.

Elmir wore his usual blank face as Dilmir approached. He seemed perfectly at ease, not concerned in the least with the circumstances. But then, that was how he always looked. Dilmir was fairly sure a dragon could fly overhead and not get much more than a raised eyebrow out of Elmir.

The thought made him smile. At least some things never changed. “Aseleth, Manithar,” he said, entering the bowl.

Elmir nodded in response. “Given recent occurrences,” he said, “I thought it might be advantageous to bypass a few lessons, and start focusing on spells which are a bit more relevant. We’ll start with how to recognize spells designed to cause fire.”

Dilmir smiled again, briefly. He had never thought he’d find Elmir’s unshakeable attitude comforting, but just then, he did. He began listening as Elmir started to explain the appearance of various spells.

As the lesson continued, and no attack came, Dilmir began to relax. He let his magic out, feeling it flow around him. He quickly felt Ilrin and Eledim nearby, but didn’t focus too closely on them. Eledim wouldn’t like that.

Everything seemed to be normal, aside from how crowded the field was, and the presence of the mages. Dilmir stretched his magic towards the forest, but felt nothing there. Maybe the Asdelarcen wouldn’t try anything with so many mages around.

He was wrong. He had just decided that they were safe here, when five spells, shielded and slippery, sped from the forest towards him.

His magic sensed them first, speeding through the trees in a low arc, descending rapidly towards where he and Elmir stood. He spun on the spot, and was just able to see them, barely visible against the weak sunlight, streaking down towards him. They were all different colors, clearly all designed to do different things. The Asdelarcen had changed their attack again.

Dilmir didn’t even bother trying to affect the spells. He plunged his magic into the ground, quickly found a root, and sent it skyward, causing it to sprout a lattice of vines in the path of the spells. But even as he did so, he remembered it probably wouldn’t work. The Asdelarcen kept adapting to everything he did, and he had already blocked one of their spells in a similar fashion.

Sure enough, the five spells swerved around the lattice as if they could see it, met on the other side, and continued their downward trajectory. Spells couldn’t do that – react in midair. Could they? Dilmir wasn’t sure. He was out of options, and had no time to react further.

The five spells arrived. Two seemed to explode in the air, a few feet away from Dilmir. One flew into the ground a short distance away, and another struck the grass practically at Dilmir’s feet. Dilmir looked at the spot doubtfully. Spells didn’t just miss like that.

He had forgotten about the fifth spell. It was slower than the others, but he heard it coming, a rushing of wind announcing its presence. He looked up just in time for it to slam head-on into his chest.

Dilmir’s shield absorbed it. He looked at the spot where the spell had dissipated, countered perfectly by one of Endir’s endless suggestions. It had actually worked.

A moment later, he realized that the spell had been designed to distract him while the other four spells did their work. The two which had seemed to explode in midair had now enchanted the air around Dilmir and Elmir – something Dilmir was vaguely aware of as being something only he and Eltuthar, and those they had taught, knew how to do. Dilmir was now encased in a hemisphere of magic, shielded like the spells. He instantly guessed that teleporting out wasn’t an option.

The spell which had struck the ground a ways away had pulled several roots from the earth. They now sprung up all along the edge of the bowl Dilmir and Elmir were in, curving upwards until they met in the middle, forming a spherical cage. They quickly wove themselves together, blocking off Dilmir’s view of the rest of the field. Thorns, thick as Dilmir’s arm, sprouted along the inside of the roots, and then the entire cage began to contract quickly, growing smaller and smaller. These roots, too, were shielded, unable to be touched by Dilmir’s magic.

The final spell, which had struck the grass near Dilmir, seemed to be the most deadly. As he watched the roots constricting together, wondering how he could possibly get out, a thick white smoke began to rise from the ground, from the very grass itself. This was no innocent white mist. It covered Dilmir’s feet quickly, and his skin began to burn and blister. Poison. He stretched his magic forward, and found that the grass, too, was shielded.

This was it then. Dilmir was completely enclosed in a sphere of magic he could neither control nor breach. If the poison didn’t get him, then presumably the thorns would. His new shield was designed to thwart things like magic and fire, but against a physical attack, like being skewered by a thorn, there was little he could do. Magic didn’t work against things like that. Maybe it could protect him for a few seconds, but it couldn’t stop the thorns indefinitely. The poison though…

“Keliess as asin arewn silin im il! Edel nolun sudern ethen imis!” Dilmir said, directing his magic at his own shield. Instantly, the burning sensation in his feet vanished. He might not be able to do much, but he could at least filter the poison from the air before it reached him. He turned, and cast the same spell on Elmir.

“Any ideas?” he asked the old elf. “I can’t enchant anything: the grass, the roots; it’s all shielded.” The thorns drew closer.

“If you can’t do anything,” Elmir replied, “then I doubt I can.” His voice was still somehow miraculously calm. Despite his words, he turned, and began casting spells at the roots. They all dissipated against the wood.

Dilmir turned as well, flinging his magic at the approaching roots, but there was nothing he could do. His magic slipped and slid over them, unable to get through whatever shield the Asdelarcen had conjured.

They continued to back up as the roots drew closer, until they were back-to-back. The roots were almost upon them, the thorns pressed up against them, the poisonous fog – not a threat any longer but still thick – up over their heads, blinding them to all else.

There was nothing they could do. Dilmir’s magic was getting further and further constricted, lashing out repeatedly at the roots but unable to touch them. How could the Asdelarcen do this, if they were Cursed? He was Uncursed. He was supposed to be more powerful than this.

The roots squeezed tighter. Dilmir and Elmir shifted, trying to get between the thorns, but they were running out of room. One sharp point snagged Dilmir’s woolen overshirt. Another was slowly tearing his cloak. The roots were nearly crushing them now, the wood only a few inches from their faces. Dilmir put his hands on the closest root, trying ineffectually to keep it from him.

His magic flooded into the root, able to reach it at last. Dilmir pulled his hand away in shock, and the connection was severed.

Dilmir only hesitated for a second. Then he placed both hands back on the root. There it was, the magic of the root, just waiting to be controlled. How he could suddenly control the root by touching it, Dilmir couldn’t even begin to guess, but there was no time to wonder. He quickly flooded the root with his magic, and stopped it from constricting. Slowly, the roots began to ease up, giving him and Elmir room to move.

Dilmir didn’t know what had just happened, but just now, he didn’t care. He knelt down and placed his hand on the grass. Again, he seemed to go right through whatever barrier the Asdelarcen had created, his magic flooding into the grass and stopping it from creating more of the poisonous fog.

Somehow, someway, Dilmir had discovered a weakness the Asdelarcen had missed. He placed his hand again on the roots surrounding them, felt his magic flood into them, and blasted them apart.

Pale sunlight struck them, along with sound, both of which had been blocked by the roots. Dilmir quickly saw that the Council mages, as well as Alfimir, were nearby. He guessed they had been unable to stop the roots. Ilrin also was near; she let out a wordless cry when she saw Dilmir, and ran towards him. Many elves had gathered, most probably unsure what had caused the roots.

But Dilmir didn’t immediately notice any of them. He stepped from the roots, and flung his magic towards the forest, stretching it as far as it would go. The Asdelarcen weren’t going to get away this time.

Five spells had been cast at Dilmir, but he was only able to find three elves, shielded in slippery magic, backing away, further in the forest. Remembering their own spells, Dilmir flooded his magic into the ground just behind them, and caused the twigs and dead leaves to begin to emit a cloud of paralyzing poison. He waited until the Asdelarcen realized what was going on, and then swept his magic forwards, causing the cloud of poison to move with it. The Asdelarcen were trapped, and being flushed out of the forest like a fox smoked out of its den. They had no choice but to run right towards Dilmir.

They crashed out of the forest a moment later, choking on what little of the poison they had inhaled, their cloaks torn with the haste of their flight.

The assembled elves backed away as they appeared, unsure who they were, but startled by their appearance. Alfimir looked at the Asdelarcen, and then at Dilmir, questioningly.

“These are the ones responsible,” Dilmir said to Alfimir, keeping his eyes fixed on the Asdelarcen.

As if to prove his words true, the Asdelarcen straightened, saw Dilmir, and collectively raised their palms and fired three separate spells at him.

They were only a few feet away, meaning Dilmir didn’t have time to block them. Fortunately, he didn’t need to. Elmir had come up from behind Dilmir, and both he and Alfimir raised their palms and cast a spell without a moment of hesitation. The two spells collided with two of the Asdelarcen’s spells, negating each other in a shower of energy and sparks. Perfect counterspells. That left one spell, speeding towards Dilmir. It struck his shield, and faded harmlessly into nothingness.  

Dilmir looked up from where the spell had struck, and saw the Asdelarcen standing there, watching him. They seemed to realize what was coming next.

In an instant, Dilmir had sent roots upwards from the ground, surrounding the Asdelarcen. They turned to flee, but the roots pounced, toppling them to the ground, and then binding them there, holding them secure. They were helpless, surrounded by elves. There would be no escape this time.

Alfimir approached the Asdelarcen warily, along with several Council mages. Dilmir watched as they knelt down, and began to question them. They had attacked an elf, a citizen of Eld’rin, and for that, they would be held by the Council, and questioned until they had nothing left to hide.

But that wasn’t what was on Dilmir’s mind. He might have beaten these three, but there had been five spells which flew out of the forest. Five Asdelarcen. Every time they attacked, their numbers seemed to increase, and their methods grew more and more deadly. Dilmir might have escaped again, and this time he seemed to have an edge, but he doubted very much the Asdelarcen were finished with him. They would keep coming, keep attacking.

What would come next? And would Dilmir be able to escape it again?

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