The forest is dark and silent. The silver glow of Lady Luna’s lantern does not reach down through the thick cover of leaves hanging above my head. I move slowly, carefully placing one foot in front of the other, stopping every now and then to check the surroundings for any sign of life. My right hand is resting on the handle of my dagger, ready to grab it out of its sheath.
Suddenly a bat passes by, so swiftly that I barely notice its black, pointed wings. Though only for a second, this brief and sudden disruption of the dead night causes me to falter, and when I move again, an arrow hits the ground only a foot away. I jolt back, scanning the shadows for my attacker, dagger in hand. Without a sound, a boy materializes in front of me. His skin is so pale it seems to be glowing in this dim light. His hair is silver grey, his face boyish and innocent. He is dressed in a simple blue tunic, a pair of dark grey trousers and light brown leather boots.
“Hello, Arya,” he smirks.
Then he is gone, only to reappear behind me, poking his index finger in my back. “You’re dead,” he whispers. I grin and in an instant, vines are wrapped around his petite body, locking his arms tight to his sides. One vine wraps around his neck and covers his mouth. I whirl around, pointing my dagger straight at his chest, and the moment the tip of the sharp, silver blade touches him, I stop and say triumphantly “I win this time, Zeph!”
“Good job, Arya. You’re getting better. I actually had to exert myself this time...” Zeph grins and pokes my side, now free from my cage of vines. The midnight training sessions with Zeph in the woods are always great fun and very educating, though sometimes quite scary. Zeph is an Elf of Air and an illusionist: the perfect companion for training speed and creativity. He can play the most bizarre games with my mind, creating any scenery he wants, making them seem horrifyingly real. Once he had me fight my own mother, while the village I live in burned to the ground.
“Thank you, Zeph... But what’s with the arrow? You’ve never used a bow...”
“Oh, that. No, I’ve never carried a weapon in our sessions. They are all fictional. Could not harm you even if I pierced your heart...” My nervous expression causes him to laugh a quiet little laugh, while pointing at the place the arrow hit the ground only a few minutes ago. Just as he said, there is no arrow in sight. Not even a trace in the ground. When turning back to him, I see him holding the very same arrow, before it disappears literally in thin air. “You see? I’ve told you before, but you seem to have forgotten. Never trust an Elf of Air. He will rarely use weapons, and hardly ever bow and arrows. He uses his magic to create illusions so convincing that by the time you have recovered enough to even notice what is going on, he will have killed you... and by what means again?”
“By strangling me...” I answer, remembering all too well the time when Zeph demonstrated how most Elves of Air kill. It’s not that they do it very often, but they are the hardest to fend off. Usually they are very peaceful creatures, and I cannot remember hearing of any incident where an Elf of Air killed another elf... But for some reason, Zeph seems determined to teach me everything he can about defending myself against any type of danger... Some months ago, he showed me what it means to be caught off guard by an invisible attacker. I had been on the ground, gasping for air without even noticing him. Elves of Air can turn invisible, and therefore they are the perfect assassins.
“And the bat... I presume that was an illusion as well...?”
Zeph shakes his head, seeming very pleased with himself when he answers in a carefree tone. “Nope. That was me.”