Ilrin was soon healed to perfection, as was Dilmir. At least, most of him was. His right hand, the hand he had struck Iskra with, seemed unlikely to ever work correctly again, despite Iyadin’s best efforts. Something had happened to the nerves there, and Dilmir could no longer control the fingers with precision. He’d have to learn to write and use a sword with his left hand. It was a small price to pay for having Ilrin back.
Endir and Felnir also escaped with minor injuries only, all of which were soon healed. Endir had successfully raised a wall of roots in front of the Lower Quarter, keeping the undead from the Elven homes, and those who hid within. Felnir had slain many Asdelarcen, the secrets of Eltuthar helping him to ward off their attacks. Together with Aldir, he had chased them from Eld’rin.
The zombies were dead, the Asdelarcen gone. Eld’rin was damaged, but it could be regrown. But the greatest loss was the elves who had been slain. The zombies had killed many, most of them young elves, since they were the ones in the middle of Eld’rin when the attack began. Their loss left the survivors angered, many elves calling for an attack on the vampires. Dilmir knew that would accomplish nothing. Soon enough, everyone would know who the real enemy was.
Many Council members had been slain in the attack, but Delarthen and most of those who ruled with him had survived. Despite what they had seen, they continued to insist that Dilmir’s magic was dangerous and foreign. The said his unnatural power had brought the Asdelarcen – something Dilmir couldn’t exactly deny – and warned that more dark forces would attack if he was not banished.
But their warnings fell on deaf ears. The whole of Eld’rin had seen Dilmir fight against the undead and the Asdelarcen. They had seen him stand between them and an army of zombies, and had seen him face and slay Cyprien, the greatest enemy they had known for two centuries.
A few remained stubbornly loyal to the Council, but most other elves seemed to consider him a hero. It was a reaction Dilmir hadn’t been ready for. Those who had shunned him now sought him out. Those who had ignored him listened when he spoke. His magic was no longer feared, but rather treated with awe and respect. It was of course a welcome change, but Dilmir found that he disliked the attention. He had grown used to having only a few friends, and felt most at ease when he was alone with Ilrin or Endir.
Of course, not all of his friends were there. The Asdelarcen might have been beaten, but Inilidin was nowhere to be found. The forest was scoured, and Dilmir teleported as far west as the ruins of Arath Imil, but no spell he used could find her. He suspected that wherever she was, the Asdelarcen had shielded her, so that she couldn’t be tracked.
He knew she was still alive, for every time he tried to locate her with a twig or a blade of grass, a soft blue glow would light up his palm. That meant she was still out there, somewhere, a captive of the Asdelarcen. They didn’t need her anymore; Dilmir knew that, so he worried what they might do with her.
One of the first things he did once he could walk without stumbling was seek out Inilidin’s parents, and swear to them that he would get her back. She had been taken because of him, and he promised them he would do everything he could to return her safely to them.
“I’m the reason she was taken,” he had said, “but I promise you I’ll get her back.”
“The Asdelarcen took her,” her father had said. “Not you. They are to blame. You left Ilrin and your aunt to search for her, even though you knew they were in danger. You tried to find her. We won’t forget that.”
Dilmir was glad they didn’t blame him, but their words still made him feel sick inside. Yes, it had been the Asdelarcen who had taken her, but it was his fault. The Asdelarcen would never have touched her if they hadn’t been trying to lure him out of Eld’rin.
But searching for Inilidin was something Dilmir unfortunately couldn’t do right away. The threat of Aranthar was imminent, and Dilmir knew they would need to come up with a plan to defeat him. If they even could.
“Don’t worry,” Felnir said when Dilmir expressed his doubts to him. “Eltuthar has a plan. The Council has been forced to give me a full pardon as a Dark Elf. I guess I killed too many Asdelarcen for them to ignore. I’ll ride out and find Eltuthar and tell him what’s happened here, and we’ll figure something out. We’ll beat him, Dilmir.”
“Can we?” Dilmir had asked. “He has so much magic…”
“So do you,” Felnir had said, putting his hand on Dilmir’s shoulder. “Magic is the answer, Dilmir. One way or another.”
His words didn’t sit well with Dilmir. Magic might be the answer, but it was definitely the problem. It had certainly brought the Asdelarcen, and look what damage that had caused.
The Council seemed to share Dilmir’s thoughts, but one who Dilmir wasn’t sure about was Alfimir. The archmage had been in the Royal Quarter when the undead attacked, and, like the Council, had been kept from attacking due to all the elves in the way. What spells he had gotten through had been ineffective against the undead.
Dilmir saw him, a few days after the attack, leaning against a root, watching him. Just watching. His face conveyed nothing; not the fear of the Council nor the admiration of the elves. Did he agree with the Council? Or had he, like so many others, changed his mind about Dilmir? It was impossible to tell.
All Dilmir knew was that, again as Eltuthar had predicted, he had removed the shields he had placed around the Council. Immunity to spells could make the Council far more powerful than they ought to be, and it seemed that Alfimir wanted that no more than Eltuthar did.
Dilmir paused when he saw Alfimir, and watched him in return, wondering. They had been something close to allies. Alfimir had certainly helped him and Eltuthar. But that had been a temporary alliance – they both knew that. There was no denying what Alfimir had done in the past. They were certainly enemies, and one day, they would have to meet and reconcile their differences. But not just yet. Aranthar was the enemy at the moment.
Alfimir might be a mystery to Dilmir, but Aldir wasn’t. At least, not as much. Ilrin told Dilmir how he had fought the Asdelarcen when the rest of the Council had surrendered, and for a while Dilmir wondered at it. Then one day, while he and Ilrin were still recovering in Aimim’s home, they saw him, outside, leaning against a root. He was watching the house, but he was making no effort to hide himself. This struck Dilmir as odd. He was a trained spy; why would he be out in broad daylight where everyone could see him?
Dilmir knew Ilrin would never speak to Aldir, so he left the house alone, walking towards him. He turned as Dilmir approached, but Dilmir called out, and he paused.
“Ilrin says you fought the Asdelarcen,” Dilmir said, as Aldir hesitated uncertainly, “when they came for her. Even though the rest of the Council surrendered.”
Aldir nodded shortly.
“Why?” Dilmir asked.
Aldir finally decided to stay put. He leaned back against the root and observed Dilmir, as if weighing whether or not he should answer. “Their choice wasn’t mine,” he finally said.
Dilmir raised an eyebrow.
“They chose to stand aside,” Aldir said, looking Dilmir in the eye. “They never surrendered. The Asdelarcen said they wanted Ilrin and you, and they decided to stand aside. I – I couldn’t be a part of that decision.”
Dilmir couldn’t feel angry at the Council, not really. Given how the Council had always acted towards him, he had always found their story of surrendering a little unplausible. If he was honest, he had already known something like this had happened. “So you attacked the Asdelarcen?” he said. “By yourself? I mean” —he realized how the question had sounded— “I mean, you were outnumbered.”
Aldir nodded. “Logic wasn’t exactly a contributing factor at that time,” he said. “I was shocked at what the Council was doing. I joined the Council, thinking they existed to protect the elves. I want to protect the elves. But when they stepped aside, I realized that the Council I thought I had joined – they never existed.”
They were silent for a moment. “So now what?” Dilmir said. “You defied the Council… what happens now?”
“I’m done with them,” Aldir said. “They say I’m not, but they don’t control me anymore. I want to serve the elves. The Council only wants to serve itself. Everything I’ve done for them… it’s been just that: for them. Not for the elves.”
He took a breath. “That includes what I did to get you banished, Dilmir. I’ve been haunted by that ever since. I believed what the Council said about you being dangerous, but I saw you fighting those undead. I know they were wrong. And I know it was wrong to get you banished.” He held out his hand. “Can you forgive me for that?”
Dilmir waved the hand aside. “I never blamed you,” he said. “I blamed the Council. You were just doing your job.”
“Ilrin blames me,” Aldir said, glancing at the window of Aimim’s house. Dilmir turned, and saw Ilrin there, watching the two of them. She turned away when she saw them looking.
“Yes,” he said fairly. “She does.”
“I’ve tried to apologize to her,” Aldir said, “many times. But she won’t hear me.”
“Give her time,” Dilmir said.
“Do you think she’ll forgive me? Eventually?”
Dilmir had to think. To be honest, he wasn’t sure. Ilrin was loyal to a fault, and never forgot betrayal. “She’ll never forget,” he said slowly. “But… in time she might at least see your side of things. I’ll talk to her, Aldir, and tell her what you’ve told me. But give it time.”
Aldir nodded. “Time,” he echoed.
But time was the one thing they were short on. Aranthar would soon approach, and Dilmir didn’t know how they were going to defeat him. Felnir’s words kept echoing in his head: ‘Magic is the answer,’ but he began to doubt them more and more. As he saw the destruction wrought on Eld’rin by Cyprien and the undead, he wondered if more magic really was the answer.
He mentioned this to Ilrin. “My magic did this,” he said. “It brought the Asdelarcen, it caused this damage, and Inilidin is gone.” He looked down. “Maybe the Council is right,” he said.
“You’re right,” Ilrin said.
Dilmir looked at her, surprised at her answer.
“You are,” she said. “Your magic did this. It might even be why Cyprien chose me to be Iskra, I don’t know.”
Dilmir felt sick at the thought.
“But that’s not what matters.”
Dilmir looked at her. “Ilrin,” he said. “I think—”
“No,” she interrupted. “It’s not. Without your magic, I wouldn’t be here right now.” She paused, letting her words sink in. “Without your magic, we’d all be dead. Without your magic, Cyprien would still exist, and Eld’rin would probably be rubble by now.”
Dilmir knew she was right, but didn’t want to admit it. He picked up a charred piece of gate and looked at it.
Gently, Ilrin pulled the piece of wood from his hand and threw it away. “If you want to blame someone, Dilmir,” she said softly, “blame Aranthar. He sent the Asdelarcen. He sent the undead. He even sent Cyprien. Not you, him. Not your magic, his.”
Dilmir finally looked at her.
“He’s responsible,” she said.
And Dilmir knew she was right. “Yes,” he said. He looked up at the ruins of the gate of Eld’rin, and felt his good hand clench into a fist. “He is.”
He would meet with Eltuthar, and together, they would find a way to stop Aranthar. They had beaten his army, they had beaten Cyprien. And when he finally attacked… they would be ready.
But that is another story.