Chapter Twelve – Things Worsen

It was still morning when Dilmir exited the Lower Quarter, alone. They had reported the attack as he had suggested. Bound by their laws, the Council had been forced to act, although Dilmir privately thought that several of their members wished the Asdelarcen had just finished him off.

Ilrin had been sent home, and Council mages had been stationed outside her door. Mages had also been stationed throughout Eld’rin: at the main gate, at the entrance to the Lower Quarter; everywhere there was a chokepoint.

Dilmir was beginning to doubt what he had said earlier about feeling safer with mages around. The Asdelarcen seemed to be Cursed – of that he was fairly sure now – but they still had magic neither he nor the Council seemed to know about. They were shielded, as were their spells, and that gave them a great advantage. Dilmir wasn’t sure if the Council mages were really much of a threat to them, and if that was the case, then Ilrin really wasn’t protected at all.

Once he realized this, Dilmir had tried to stay and guard Ilrin as well, but the Council wouldn’t have it. They couldn’t easily claim he was a threat, since the Asdelarcen had attacked him as well as Ilrin, but Ilrin’s parents had protested, saying that he was responsible for the presences of the Asdelarcen, and that everyone near him was in danger.

Dilmir hadn’t expected that. He had met Ilrin’s parents before, and had liked them. Yes, they believed the Council, but they had seemed more open-minded than most. To hear them say what they had… it had been a blow Dilmir hadn’t been expecting.

And so here he was, leaving the Lower Quarter. Training had begun long ago, but there was little point in going there. Dilmir doubted he could keep his mind on what Elmir was saying, and he didn’t want to anyway. He was worried about Ilrin, about the Asdelarcen attacking her again. But he couldn’t go there either. Her parents had forbidden him from coming near their home, or their daughter.

Dilmir paused in the middle of Eld’rin, unsure where to go or what to do. He had to stop the Asdelarcen someway. But how?

Someone whispered his name from the nearby shadows.

He turned. The sun was up by now, casting long shadows across Eld’rin. The voice had come from one of these, but he saw no one.

“Dilmir!” came the whisper again.

He caught sight briefly of a hand, beckoning him towards the closest, and darkest, shadow. He paused only a moment, and then approached the shadow cautiously. He could just make out the shape of an elf standing there, crouched, hiding in the shadow.

The elf reached out and pulled Dilmir into the shadow. It was only then that Dilmir recognized him.

“Felnir?” he said.

When Eltuthar had been attacked at Arath Imil, Alfimir had slain all of his followers, the Eth Aniliim, or Dark Elves as the Council liked to call them. None had survived. However, Felnir had been imprisoned by the Council at the time, captured as a Dark Elf, and had thus escaped Alfimir’s fiery purge. The Council had been forced to let him go when Eltuthar fled. That had been the last Dilmir had seen of him.

“What are you doing here?” Dilmir asked.

“Looking for you,” Felnir said. “Eltuthar’s with me. He needs to see you.”

“Eltuthar – What, here?” Dilmir lowered his voice. “If he’s caught—”

“He won’t be,” Felnir assured him. “He teleported both of us right into your Aunt’s home. No one knows he’s there.”

Eltuthar was Uncursed like Dilmir, but to end the Civil War, Sonlen – who had been archmage then – had put his own brand of curse on him. All of Eltuthar’s magic had been purged from him. While he could still sense the magic about himself, to use it caused him great pain. If he continued to use magic, Sonlen’s curse would kill him. To teleport both himself and Felnir to Eld’rin must have been very dangerous.

But he was here now, and there was no one Dilmir would rather talk to. Eltuthar knew more about magic than anyone he knew. He could answer all of Dilmir’s questions about the Asdelarcen. He might even know how to get rid of them.

Dilmir nodded to Felnir, and they set out for the Upper Quarter, Felnir keeping his hood low to hide his face. He was still a Dark Elf, and as such was technically an enemy of the elves. It would be better if he wasn’t seen.

They arrived at Aimim’s home shortly afterwards, Dilmir opening the door and stepping inside. He closed it quickly once Felnir entered.

Eltuthar was there, sitting in a chair in the living room, speaking with Aimim. He turned as Dilmir entered, and all of Dilmir’s thoughts about the Asdelarcen died instantly.

The last time he had seen Eltuthar, he had been strong. He was in his middle years by Elven standards, and his hair had been gray, but he had still exuded a sense of power and command.

Now he was weak. His cloak was dusty and tattered. His skin was drawn, the bones of his face sharply defined. He slumped in the chair wearily, as if he didn’t even have the strength to stand.

“Dilmir,” he said weakly, his thin face breaking into a smile.

“What happened to you?” Dilmir said, before he could stop himself.

Eltuthar’s smile flickered. “Sit, Dilmir,” he said. “There is much I have to tell you.”

Dilmir sat, Felnir finding a seat as well.

“To answer your question,” Eltuthar said, shifting in his seat to face Dilmir (Dilmir saw him wince), “Morindan happened to me.”

“Morindan?” Dilmir repeated. Morindan was the land to the east of Eld’rin, a place of death, ruled by Cyprien and his vampires.

“Morindan,” Eltuthar agreed grimly. “I had been hearing rumors for some time, rumors about the vampires and undead moving, massing at Cyprien’s castle. The land itself was growing cold and oddly still, and I found that all the energy, all the magic, had been sucked out of it. I hastened to Cyprien’s castle, hoping to uncover what was happening.

“I arrived in time to overhear a meeting between Cyprien and an elf called Aranthar.”

Aranthar. The name stirred something in Dilmir’s memory, but he couldn’t place it. He glanced at Felnir, but saw that the name meant nothing to him either.

“An elf?” Felnir said. “Cyprien was actually meeting with an elf?”

Eltuthar nodded. “Plotting, actually. They both seemed to want to destroy Eld’rin, but Aranthar couldn’t do so just yet. He said something about his work in Annelintia being incomplete, and that he couldn’t leave until it was. What that work might be, I have no idea.

“But he also said that because of me, he had to attack Eld’rin early. Apparently, word of my research on the Curse had somehow reached him. He said it was possible I would succeed in lifting it, and that attacking Eld’rin and sowing chaos amongst the elves would buy him some time if I was successful. I was, understandably, both elated and horrified at the same time.”

“Who is this Aranthar?” Dilmir asked.

“I didn’t immediately recognize the name either,” Eltuthar said. “I’ve been hiding with the dwarves though, and they had several records about him. Once I realized who he was, I hastened here with Felnir, to warn you, Dilmir. You see… Aranthar is of our line. He is Uncursed.”

The meaning of these words did not strike Dilmir right away. “Uncursed?” he repeated.

“Uncursed,” Eltuthar confirmed. “And he’s been alive for much longer than either of us. He’s been alive for so long that I’m sure he’s using magic to keep himself that way.”

“How old is he?” Dilmir asked.

“At least two hundred fifty,” Eltuthar said grimly.

The full meaning of what Eltuthar was saying finally sank in. Dilmir had the magic of nearly nineteen years, and he was easily the most powerful elf in Feylund. Or at least he had thought so. But now this Aranthar was Uncursed and had the magic of two hundred fifty years? And he wanted to destroy Eld’rin? Dilmir couldn’t even imagine what an elf could do with so much power. He didn’t know what to say, and just sat there, trying to grapple with the number.

“Currently,” Eltuthar said, “Aranthar is in Annelintia. He said he couldn’t leave there for at least a few months, and left soon after meeting with Cyprien. So at least we don’t have to worry about him just yet. But he left an army with Cyprien, around a hundred undead, and told Cyprien to use them against Eld’rin. He said these undead were shielded with magic, and I found his words to be true. Each was surrounded with more magic than a Cursed elf can possess, and their strength had been augmented as well. One blow from them could probably slay an elf instantly, and the magic makes them immune to both spell and sword. Only you, Dilmir, can hope to defeat them.”

Dilmir’s ability to respond had long since left him.

“Where are these undead now?” Felnir asked.

“That I don’t know,” Eltuthar said. “I had trouble getting out of Morindan unseen. It took much longer than I anticipated, and the toll on me living in a place with no magic for so long was unpleasant. As you might have noticed.” He spread his arms wide, showing just how thin he truly was. “Unfortunately, I lost track of the undead. Cyprien could have led them here already.”

“There’s been no attack,” Dilmir said, finally regaining the ability of speech. “If they were here, they would attack.”

“That’s the last thing Aranthar mentioned,” Eltuthar said. “He has agents in Eld’rin, and told Cyprien to wait until they said it was safe to attack. What they’re waiting for, I’m not sure, but—”

“The Asdelarcen!” Dilmir said, suddenly springing to his feet.

“The – who?” Eltuthar repeated.

“The Asdelarcen,” Dilmir said. “They’ve been here, attacking me. They must be Aranthar’s agents! Who else could it be?”

“You’ve been attacked?” Eltuthar said sharply. “Who are these Asdelarcen? Dilmir, tell me what’s been going on.”

So Dilmir did. He told Eltuthar about the Asdelarcen and their attacks, how their magic was slippery, how he couldn’t affect it, and how they now seemed to be going after his friends.

When he finished, Eltuthar leaned back in his chair. “These are Aranthar’s agents,” he said. “I have no doubt.” He was silent for a moment. “As for why they’ve turned to your friends,” he said, “I have no idea. But it seems clear that they’ve been trying to get rid of you, knowing that you pose a threat to the undead.”

“Can I defeat the undead though?” Dilmir said. “If they’re shielded like the Asdelarcen…”

“You said you broke through the shield once, right?” Eltuthar said.

Dilmir nodded.

“By touching the root they had enchanted? Yes, that’s the secret.” Eltuthar leaned forward. “There was a spell, back in the early days of magic before the Curse, which could create such a shield. It was the dwarves of all people who uncovered the secret; apparently they make a habit of preserving very old documents. That’s how I know about it.

“According to what I read, it is possible to measure the distance magic has traveled. It loses power as it travels, so when a spell is cast, or even when you use your magic, Dilmir, it’s slightly less powerful even a few feet away than it is right next to you. There was a spell which could detect this drop in power, and if it was above a certain threshold, just block any magic which touched it. The only way around it is to enchant the object at point blank range, which is what you did when you touched that root. The drop in power was too low for the enchantment to sense, therefore it couldn’t block you.”

“So…” Dilmir said, trying to keep up, “essentially if I touch an Asdelarcen, I can go right through his shield?”

Eltuthar nodded.

“And the same holds true for the undead?” Dilmir guessed.

Again, Eltuthar nodded. “But,” he added a moment later, “the undead have two shields. One is identical to what these Asdelarcen have. You can get through that. But beyond that is a shield of pure magic, strong enough to deflect any spell from a Cursed elf. Only you have the magic to overwhelm that shield.”

“That’s not much of an advantage,” Felnir pointed out. “Why are the Asdelarcen so worried about Dilmir stopping the undead? If he has to walk right up to them, they could kill him easily.”

“Not… quite,” Eltuthar said. “I won’t deny it’s dangerous, but as an Uncursed elf, Dilmir, you have certain advantages. Magic is best suited to blocking energy. If you try and block a physical object or force with it, usually nothing happens.”

Dilmir knew this. That was why he hadn’t bothered modifying his shield when the thorns were crushing him – it wouldn’t have made any difference.

“However,” Eltuthar said, “this is only because the energy required to block a physical force is a ridiculously large amount. A Cursed elf could never hope to conjure such a shield. But you, Dilmir, have access to much more magic.”

“So if I make a shield to block the attacks of these undead,” Dilmir said, “it will just… work?”

“No,” Eltuthar said. “You merely have the magic to make the shield at least take a hit. After one or two blows, the shield will evaporate. However, being Uncursed, you can pull magic from nearby, and use it to keep the shield up. It’s still dangerous, but if you can keep your shield in place, the undead won’t be able to hurt you.”

Dilmir sat back, trying to process what Eltuthar had said.

“My guess,” Eltuthar said, “is that Aranthar doesn’t think you can possibly defeat all of the undead. But he still wants you out of the way before he attacks, because there are only a hundred zombies. My best guess is that Aranthar has limited numbers of them, and doesn’t want to lose any.”

“Ilrin,” Dilmir said to himself. He had been thinking about the shields of the Asdelarcen, and had just realized something. “If the Asdelarcen can block magic from everywhere except right next to them, then they are immune to spells, right?”

Eltuthar nodded. “Completely,” he said.

“Then the Council mages guarding Ilrin have no chance against them,” Dilmir said. “The Asdelarcen are immune to spells, and their own spells are shielded; there’s nothing the Council can do. The Asdelarcen could just walk in there and take her.”

Eltuthar sat back, thinking. Dilmir remained standing, on the verge of leaving Eltuthar and running straight to the Lower Quarter.

“I think,” Eltuthar finally said, “that it’s time we alert Alfimir to what is going on.”

“Alfimir?” Dilmir echoed, his worry temporarily interrupted.

“Yes,” Eltuthar said. “We have to warn the Council about the undead. And I think… I think it’s time we gave the Council an edge against these Asdelarcen. You can’t be everywhere, Dilmir, and the Council is bound by its laws to protect Ilrin. They need to be able to fight back against the Asdelarcen.”

“But… how?”

“Simple,” Eltuthar said. “This shield the Asdelarcen possess – it is easily created by even a Cursed elf. The secret of its formation was lost long ago, but I, in my studies, uncovered it. We will show this to Alfimir, and he in turn will shield the Council just as the Asdelarcen are.”

Dilmir was shocked into silence. It was Felnir who finally spoke.

“That’s… That’s stupid,” he said bluntly. “Alfimir is our greatest enemy. Why would we give him such a secret?”

“Alfimir is not our greatest enemy,” Eltuthar said. “Aranthar is, and he’s Alfimir’s enemy too. Right now, the most important thing is that we stop these undead. I think Alfimir will recognize that.”

“But…” Felnir protested. “You’ll be giving him a great advantage over us as well! A shield even Dilmir here can’t breach easily?”

“You’ve met Alfimir before,” Eltuthar said calmly. “Consider what you know of him. I’ve known him for most of my life. He has one goal only: to protect the elves. However misguided he might be, every action he takes ultimately stems from that single drive. He fears my magic, and what it can do in the hands of power-hungry elves. That is why I can entrust him with the secret of these shields: because I know that he will keep it hidden, and never let the Council or anyone else know how to create them. He was there at the Civil War. Neither of us want to repeat that.”

“What if you’re wrong?” Felnir said. “What if Alfimir has changed? What if you tell him how to create this shield, and then he turns around and tells the secret to the Council?”

“Then we’ll deal with it,” Eltuthar said, his voice still calm. “You know we can.” He looked pointedly at Felnir.

The look stirred something in Dilmir: a small shred of resentment. “You’ve known how to create these shields all this time,” he said to Eltuthar, “but you never showed me? Why? Why didn’t you show me the secrets of magic you had found?”

Eltuthar turned to him. “Because I was afraid and unsure,” he said. His response had been quick, and Dilmir guessed he had thought about this conversation for a long time. “You have to understand,” Eltuthar said, “that I caused one of the bloodiest battles in Elven history with those secrets. I never, ever, want to see that repeated. I trusted you, Dilmir, I did, but I saw far too much of myself in you. You had good intentions, but I did too when I was young. I didn’t tell you everything I had found because I didn’t want to take the risk – however small – of starting another war. And besides, you didn’t need to know them. I didn’t know about Aranthar then.”

“Well I could use them now,” Dilmir said, wavering between resentment and simple exasperation.

“And I’ll tell you,” Eltuthar said. “But right now time is of the essence. We have to warn Alfimir about the undead. If we find them and destroy them, then I’ll tell you everything I can, Dilmir. But until then, time is against us.

“Felnir,” he said, turning, “you must find Alfimir. I will be arrested if caught, but the Council has no grounds on which to hold you. And I doubt Dilmir has much credibility with the Council at the moment. It has to be you. When you see him, tell him how to form the Velyor Enedil Asvarien. That’s the shield the Asdelarcen are using. You remember the spell?”

Felnir nodded, frowning. “And you’re sure about this,” he said. “Telling this to Alfimir?”

“Alfimir is nothing if not predictable,” Eltuthar said. “And besides, him having the shield hardly spells our doom.”

Felnir nodded grimly, and stood.

“What do I do?” Dilmir asked.

Eltuthar looked at him. “Stay alive,” he said. “And try to keep everyone else alive too. You might be able to kill these undead, but it won’t be easy. You’ll have to be ready when they come.”

Dilmir nodded. A few short minutes ago, he had been concerned about the Asdelarcen and the threat to Ilrin. Leave it to Eltuthar to introduce an undead army and an all-powerful elf into the mix. Dilmir only hoped that was the end of the surprises.

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