Ithilia got back to her feet and blinked to clear the dark spots that plagued her vision. When she could see again she found that the Queen was indeed gone. Ithilia glanced at the Tree of Immortality and her blood froze.
Viln glanced at the Tree and cursed. He bolted for it with Ithilia and the remaining Exiles right behind him. Their group skidded to a halt at the base of the Tree. Ithilia raked her eyes over it, wishing to deny what she saw, but couldn’t. The Tree of Immortality was dying.
The Tree’s multi-colored bark was turning grey and sinking into itself. The machine–which the Queen claimed kept the gift in check–had merged with the trunk, only a few jagged edges remaining visible. Not only had the Queen taken the gift from them, she’d insured that it could never be reclaimed.
“I can’t believe she did this,” Tanor said. “Can the Tree’s death be reversed?”
“No,” Yadira replied. “The sacrifice of an immortal life is a powerful thing and can’t be undone.”
“Then we’ve failed,” Viln said.
“Not necessarily,” a voice whispered.
Ithilia glanced around, but saw nothing. The others were equally puzzled.
“Who’s there,” Viln asked.
“Who do you think?”
The voice came from in front of them, or more specifically, from the Tree.
“You can talk,” Ithilia stated.
“Of course I can,” it replied. “I’m the voice of the elves, but I can’t say more as we’re running out of time.”
“Can we stop you from dying,” Viln asked.
“Yes, but it will require a sacrifice.”
“We’re willing to do anything,” Tanor replied.
“This isn’t a sacrifice just anyone can make,” the Tree stated. “Only one of the royal blood can do this.”
Everyone glanced at Ithilia. She stared from them to the Tree, a cold feeling settling in the pit of her stomach. Viln gestured to their comrades.
“Can you guard the door? We don’t want to be interrupted.”
The two Exiles nodded and jogged away. Once they were gone, Viln turned back toward the tree.
“What kind of sacrifice is required?”
“Immortal life,” it explained. “That’s what is killing me and only that can preserve me for the people.”
“Only the Queen is dead,” Viln said. “She was the only immortal royal.”
“That is not the immortality that I speak of.” The tree seemed to pause before it continued. “The sacrifice that will save me–and preserve the gift for the people–is that one of the royal bloodline give up their right to immortality. Permanently.”
“Me,” Ithilia said quietly.
“Yes,” the tree replied. “Only you have the royal blood, and only you can control the gift of immortality.”
“But doesn’t that mean Ithilia could make herself immortal,” Viln asked.
“That’s correct,” it replied. “But she’ll have to take the last of my energy to do so. Ithilia would be the sole immortal amongst your kind.”
Ithilia closed her eyes in disbelief. She could make herself immortal? No longer would she fear dying, no longer would she have to wait and hope for someone to grant it to her. What she had worked and sacrificed for would finally be hers. But at what cost? Would she deny all her people immortality just to claim it herself? Would she do what her mother had done? Would Ithilia become her?
Ithilia opened up her eyes and stared at the tree. “I’ll do it.”
“Wait.” Viln took her hand, drawing her attention to him. “You don’t have to do this Ithilia. Our people can live without immortality. You had it denied to you by that tyrant and deserve it more than anyone.”
“As the Queen and those loyal to her deserved it?” Ithilia shook her head. “No. This must be returned to the people, all the people, less it destroy any who claim it.”
“You’d be living a mortal life.”
Ithilia smiled. “And I’m starting to think that it isn’t so terrible.”
“Then I have a request.” Viln moved so that they were inches apart. “Return the gift to everyone except me. Allow me to remain mortal with you.”
“You’d give up immortality,” she asked. “Why?”
Viln reached up and caressed her face. Ithilia inhaled, suppressing a shiver. Viln smiled.
“I’ve spent over two decades living a mortal life, and in that short time, I’ve never met someone like you. I want a life where you’ll be in it–however long or short it may be.”
“But you”ll die,” Ithilia protested.
“As will you, so let’s make the most of the lives we’ll lead.” Viln turned to the Tree. “Can that be done?”
“Yes,” it whispered. “But once immortality is denied, it can’t be reversed.”
Viln returned his gaze to Ithilia, the warmth in his eyes causing her heart to stutter. She leaned forward. Suddenly, his lips found hers, sending an electric current through her body. Viln pulled her to him, wrapping his hands around her back. Ithilia pressed herself against his chest, marveling in euphoric heat spreading across her body.
Slowly, Ithilia reached out and touched the tree. A blinding white light spilled forth, releasing the gift, and returning it to the people.