Ithilia didn’t want to die.

That–more than the fear of growing old–is what drove her. As she sat on a luxuriously padded seat and awaited her audience with Queen Tifa, Ithilia thought about what had led her to this point.

Her father had been a minor noble and her mother one of the Queen’s spymasters. Both had the gift of immortality, bestowed by the Queen upon those she favored. But a day came when it was discovered that they’d allied with the Queen’s enemies. They were branded traitors and given a traitor’s punishment.

They were stripped of their immortality.

It was the way of the elves on the planet Rivanan. Most of their people were mortal. Only their Immortal Queen could change that, granting immortality upon her faithful, and stripping or denying the gift to the disobedient.

Which was what made her so nervous. As a daughter of not one, but two traitors, the chances of her request for immortality being granted were slim to none. After all, as the Queen’s other handmaidens liked to point out, the blood of traitors ran in her veins, and could all to easily turn her traitor to.

“Ithilia Avana.” She jerked her head up to see a guard holding a door open. “The Immortal Queen will see you now.”

Ithilia rose and curtsied to the guard before walking through the door, her stomach tying itself in knots.

The solar was a small, but beautiful space. Elegant wooden columns spread out in a graceful arc from a delicate lattice window that took up the entire far wall. A group of elegantly dressed elven woman stood at the window, maintaining a respectful distance from a lone individual. Ithilia took a deep breath and navigated around strategically placed chairs and other furniture, coming to a halt ten feet from the window. Head down, she sank into a deep curtsy and waited.

“Rise.” The voice was calm and clear as a crystal bell.

Ithilia rose and gazed upon her sovereign. Queen Tifa Sil’ tana was a truly glorious individual. Taller that Ithilia, the Queen glowed slightly, the sign of her immortality. Eyes that seemed to contain a strand of every color in existence and silver hair gave her Majesty an otherworldly appearance.

The women standing to the right glowed slightly as well, though it was but a pale shimmer in comparison to the Queen. They, like Ithilia, were the Queen’s handmaidens. Unlike her, they’d been granted immortality.

Ithilia curtsied once more. “You summoned me, your Highness?”

“Yes Ithilia.” Queen Tifa glanced at the other handmaidens. “You may go now.”

Without a word, the group bowed to the Queen and left. When the door snapped shut Ithilia felt the tension ease from her shoulders. Queen Tifa smiled and beckoned her forth.

“I apologize for their behavior,” the Queen said softly. “Change is rarely appreciated amongst the immortal.”

“I understand your Majesty,” Ithilia replied, bowing her head. “And I’m deeply moved that you’d speak on my behalf, as it’s your favor that I desire most.”

“Indeed.” The Queen’s voice held quiet approval. Then just as quickly she seemed to change directions. “How old are you Ithilia?”

“Twenty, you Majesty.”

“Such a young woman,” she said. “And much like the frost flowers in my private garden, all the more beautiful for being removed from time.”

Ithilia’s head jerked up, the comment sending a bolt of hope through her. Could the Queen truly be saying what Ithilia thought?

“Yes, my child,” the Queen replied, as if reading her mind. “I’ve reviewed your request for immortality and will grant it to you, once you’ve completed a Task of Earning.”

Ithilia’s mind raced. The Task of Earning was the test by which an elf proved their unswerving loyalty to the Queen, and thus, their right to claim immortality.

Euphoria swept through Ithilia, making her light headed. Overcome with gratitude, she bowed as low as she was able.

“I am eternally gratefully your Majesty,” she replied. “I promise not to fail you.”

“I know you won’t,” the Queen replied. “Which is why I give you and you alone this task; bring me the head of Viln Safef.”

Ithilia’s blood froze. Viln Safef was an elusive–but well known–enemy of her Majesty. He led a rebel group known as the Exiles, so called because the Queen had declared that they–and any children born of them–would never be graced with immortality due to their transgressions. Rather than flee in shame, the Exiles seemed proud of their status and their acts to bring down their Immortal Queen. By all accounts Viln was cunning, intelligent, and a fearless fighter.

And Queen Tifa wanted her to kill him.

Ithilia glanced up. “You want me to kill the leader of the Exiles?”

The Queen tilted her head. “Is there a problem??”

Ithilia swallowed. “Only that I’m no assassin. I’ve never held a blade, much less killed a man.”

“My spymasters will help,” Queen Tifa replied. “It’s a simple act to drive a knife into a mortal’s heart.”

Panic began to set in, making Ithilia feel like she was grasping at straws.

“No one knows where the Exiles are,” she protested. “And even if I could find and meet Viln, he would never trust me enough to lower his guard.”

“My spies have reports that will allow us to place you in the Exile’s path,” the Queen countered. “As for Viln, he is a man, and all men underestimate a pretty face.”

It was not the first time that the Queen had mentioned Ithilia’s appearance. A well formed face with grey eyes and black hair gave Ithilia a striking appearance. Even her slanted ears were unusually small and delicate. Normally, she’d be pleased by such a comment from her Queen, but it now filled her with dread.

“You Majesty,” she began. “I don’t think I’m suited-”

“It’s the only way.” The Queen’s voice brokered no further argument. “Your parent’s sins–while their own–reflect upon you. My nobles and retainers will not accept you as one of the immortal unless you prove that blood–and nothing more–is all that connects you to them.”

Ithilia’s throat closed. Her heart pounded loudly in her ears and sweat coated her palms. Could she kill someone, even a traitor? The idea of taking a life was sickening.

“You could always remain mortal,” Queen Tifa suggested. “It’s not a terrible life, however short it may be.”

If Ithilia refused this task, she’d never get a second chance. She’d live her life as a mortal, but she’d be safe.

Ithilia thought of her parents. Her father gasping for breath in bed, to far gone from the pain of his crushed body to scream in agony. She saw herself dabbing a wet cloth on her mother’s burning forehead as the tumors within took their toll.

Ithilia’s jaw tightened. No. That wouldn’t be her fate.

“That won’t be necessary.” Ithilia spoke with resolve. “I will complete this task.”