Dilmir continued to muse over the spell he had felt. Elmir dismissed him at noon, and he returned to Aimim’s home for a midday meal. He told her about the spell, but she was as puzzled as he was. She had never heard of shielded spells.
That meant the only person who might know the meaning of the spell would be Eltuthar, which of course did Dilmir very little good. He had no idea where Eltuthar was, let alone how to reach him. For this, he was on his own.
Dilmir briefly considered the Council as the source of the spell, but quickly dismissed it. The magic was far beyond their capabilities. Alfimir might be able to somehow shield magic – Dilmir had actually seen him do something similar once – but why would he attack now? He and the Council had been content to leave Dilmir alone for two years. Attacking now not only made no sense, but it wasn’t their style. A spell in broad daylight? No, someone else was to blame.
These thoughts continued to circle in Dilmir’s mind as he thanked a concerned Aimim for the meal, and headed off to his afternoon training. Remembering what the trainer had said yesterday, he made for the forest, where he knew Erundil waited, ready to train him with the sword.
He shivered as he neared the beginning of the forest. He’d warm up soon enough, but just now the cold was biting. If anything, it had gotten colder as the day progressed. The sky was a blank white-gray as well; it would snow eventually for sure.
Most of the trees in the forest were pines, but there were still quite a few deciduous trees, their limbs bare and stark, red and brown leaves covering the forest floor. Dilmir didn’t go far into the forest, turning off of the path soon and making his way to a small clearing. Erundil was there waiting for him.
Erundil had the taut, lean look of a battle-hardened elf. Dilmir didn’t know his background, but he guessed he had fought against the wolves of the forest many times. He was skilled with the blade: while Dilmir’s duels with Ilrin meant he could hold his own, he still had to pay attention. Erundil could capitalize on the slightest mistake.
“Sword out,” Erundil said, his own already unsheathed and at his side.
Dilmir pulled his sword from its sheath. His tarrenith was already strapped to his left arm.
“Forms,” Erundil said, his voice blank.
Dilmir had never been able to tell if Erundil disapproved of his magic, or simply didn’t care. All he knew was that the old elf rarely spoke more than three words together, and that his tone never changed.
Dilmir began the first of the Blade Forms – a series of exercises designed to stretch the muscles, while practicing the various sword movements needed in combat. Erundil stayed where he was, watching. Dilmir had to execute the form perfectly, or he’d have to do it all over again.
As he practiced, Dilmir’s thoughts strayed. He had done the form so many times that he didn’t need to think about the individual moves; his muscle memory carried him through them perfectly.
He thought about Ilrin. He’d much rather be fighting her right now than Erundil. Yes, Erundil was the harder challenge, but Dilmir had more fun with Ilrin. He could relax around her like he could never relax around most other elves. He wondered where she was. Probably somewhere deeper in the forest, still practicing magic. She stayed there throughout the day usually, only practicing with swords some days.
Dilmir finished the form.
“Good enough,” Erundil said. He stepped forward. Training with the sword was fairly simple: you could spend all day learning various positions and blocks, but you only really got better through practice. Erundil raised his sword so it pointed up, and Dilmir did the same.
“Begin,” he said.
As before, neither of them attacked immediately, instead waiting for the other to start moving. Erundil slowly began circling to the right, so Dilmir began circling to the left. However, an opening wouldn’t just present itself: you had to make it appear. And so the feints began.
Erundil quickly narrowed the circle, coming closer to Dilmir until he was within striking range. Then he made a few jabs, first right, then left, trying to get Dilmir to swing wide to block, and thus open himself up.
Dilmir kept his sword close, and his tarrenith ready. He made a few feints as well, attacking when Erundil did, forcing him to fall back to block the blow. Slowly, the duel grew faster and more complicated, each strike an opening, each opening attacked, each attack blocked.
As he fought, Dilmir let his magic out. It took concentration to keep it bottled up inside of him; it was far easier just to let it flow outwards as far as it could, not doing anything, but feeling everything. Dilmir remained connected to it, and it made him calmer, being aware of his surroundings.
And then without warning, he felt it: the same slippery magic.
Erundil’s sword crashed against his own, punishing him for the split-second lapse in concentration, and Dilmir was forced to leap backwards, flinging his arms wide, indicating for Erundil to stop.
Erundil halted his forward momentum with difficulty. “What?” he asked, a hint of annoyance in his voice at being forced to stop.
Dilmir held up a hand, concentrating on his magic. He could feel it: another slippery spell, coming closer, speeding along a straight line between the trees. Another spell joined it. And then a third. Three spells coming at him, all slippery, all resistant to Dilmir’s touch.
But they weren’t aimed at him. Dilmir could tell their trajectory was far too low, and sure enough, a moment later they struck the forest floor at the edge of the clearing. Flames sprang up from where they had struck, flames which grew into a wall of fire far too fast to be natural. Instantly, the chill of the air was gone, replaced with a searing heat.
The fire was shielded, slippery like the spells had been. Dilmir tried to touch it with his magic, to envelop it, to bend it to his will, but he just couldn’t do it. His magic flowed around it, unable to find purchase.
Still not particularly worried, Dilmir focused on the middle of the flames, slamming the whole of his magic into one single point. Nothing. His power just curved around the fire, like a stream diverted by a boulder.
Then the flames began to move. The wall expanded, growing to the left and right, quickly igniting the dead leaves and sparse grass of the clearing. It didn’t move forwards, towards Dilmir or Erundil, but began to encircle them instead.
“Dilmir?” Erundil said, for the first time a slight waver in his voice.
Dilmir frowned. Now they were in danger. “Back up,” he said. The flames weren’t moving particularly quickly, allowing him and Erundil to walk out of the circle they were creating. Whoever was controlling the flames obviously was in no hurry.
Dilmir had just reached this conclusion when more fire ignited behind them, quickly joining up with that in front of them to make a circle. He turned on the spot. Now they were trapped.
Stay calm, he told himself, finally feeling his control over the situation begin to slip.
The flames constricted, the circle growing smaller slowly.
Dilmir forced himself to think. He couldn’t control the fire, so what could he do? He had to effect it somehow… but how? Everything he could throw on the fire with his magic was flammable: trees, bushes. There was no sand or water nearby. Doubtless he had been attacked here for that very reason.
“Dilmir,” Erundil said, next to him. “We’ve got to get out of here. Can’t you do something?”
Dilmir glanced at Erundil. The old elf seemed uncharacteristically nervous. Dilmir supposed he didn’t trust magic – many elves didn’t. That was probably why he had become a master with the sword.
Dilmir knew he had to stop the fire somehow, but there was nothing he could do. The flames drew closer and closer, and Dilmir remembered the last time he had faced a fire he couldn’t control. It had been when he was banished, when Alfimir had attacked Arath Imil, Eltuthar’s sanctuary. How had he escaped then?
And Dilmir remembered.
He gripped Erundil’s shoulder, pulled all of his magic into himself, and cast one of the few spells Eltuthar had taught him: “Ler imi elsen. Tirs imi im Eld’rin. Fesil imi ene.”
For a moment, Dilmir thought the spell hadn’t worked, and that he was being burned by the flames. But then the heat left, sound faded, and even color turned to pure white. The only sensation was one of being stretched, scattered somehow, and moving very, very fast.
And then Dilmir opened his eyes, and found that they were in the middle of Eld’rin. He had just teleported using magic.
Erundil spun on the spot, trying to take in what had just happened, apparently struck speechless. Dilmir didn’t blame him. The magic it took to cast such a spell was well beyond the amount allowed by the Curse. Only he or Eltuthar could do such a thing. For everyone else, teleportation was supposed to be impossible, a myth from the distant past.
Several elves had noticed them appear out of nowhere, and were now approaching them warily. And then Dilmir saw Alfimir, his cloak billowing, walking towards them quickly.
Alfimir stopped in front of them and looked them up and down, noting their rapid breathing and their singed state.
“What happened?” he finally said, speaking to Erundil.
“I—” Erundil didn’t seem quite capable of speaking yet.
“We were attacked,” Dilmir offered, but Alfimir held up a hand to silence him, still watching Erundil.
Erundil nodded slowly. “Flames,” he finally said. “Someone conjured flames around us. They tried to kill us,” he added, almost as if realizing it himself for the first time.
“In the forest?” Alfimir pressed.
Alfimir turned to Dilmir. “Did you do this?” he asked.
“No,” Dilmir said immediately.
Alfimir looked at him for a moment, as if trying to ascertain if he was telling the truth or not. Dilmir held his gaze. “Very well,” he finally said. “I will find who did this. The two of you return to your homes.”
There was little chance of that. Dilmir was sure now: someone was out there, someone with foreign magic. That was a threat, not just to him, but to all the elves. There were plenty left in the forest, including Ilrin. They had to be warned.