Ithilia sat on the bed in her cell, tears falling down her face. A piece of paper lay on her lap bearing the royal seal of the Immortal Queen, a mark only her Majesty was capable of making. Ithilia had read enough of Viln’s proof to know that he’d spoken true. The guards had offered the Queen money in exchange for a free reign. Her Majesty had accepted.

The sound of footsteps caused Ithilia to cast the paper aside and hastily wipe away the tears. A loud creak announced a door opening. A moment later Viln stepped into view. He took one look at her face and his eyes softened.

“I see you read it.”

Ithilia shrugged. “What else was I supposed to do? Besides, it changes nothing.”

“Nothing,” Viln asked. “The Queen uses those people and throws them away, just as she did you.”

“She didn’t abandon me,” Ithilia exclaimed jumping to her feet. “She entrusted me with an important task, one that would prove to everyone that I was truly loyal to her.”

“Ithilia.” Viln’s voice firm. “It’s the Queen, and not her courtiers, who grants immortality. She could’ve given it to you without demanding you perform a suicidal task.”

“If that’s true,” she said. “Then why did the Queen send me here?”

“I don’t know, but I doubt that she intended for you to live.” Viln walked up to the cell bars. “You can’t go back Ithilia, not when you failed to kill me. You could join us, help us stop her corrupt reign.”

Ithilia shook her head. “I may have failed to earn my immortality, but I won’t have it stripped from me and my decedents by becoming an Exile.”

Viln studied her. Slowly, he reached for her hand. Ithilia didn’t pull back, but watched as he took it gently into his own. After a moment, he glanced up at her and smiled.

“You’re already an Exile, Ithilia,” he said quietly. “You just don’t know it.”

Ithilia’s heart pounded. A warm flush crept up her cheek, mirrored by the sensation in her hand. Viln’s eyes softened and drew her in. Ithilia leaned forward.

A shrieking alarm tore them apart. Ithilia staggered back and fell onto her bed as an explosion shook the roof. Dust rained down and Ithilia flinched. She glanced at Viln who gripped the bars of her cell.

“What was that?”

“The invasion alarm,” he said. “We’re being attacked.”

Ithilia wanted to ask by whom, but Viln turned on his heels and raced out of the room. Another explosion sounded in the distance, setting off another alarm. Ithilia winced and pushed herself off of the bed. She rushed to the door and shook it, eliciting a sharp rattle that could barely be heard over the din. Cursing, Ithilia pushed herself away and started to pace.

More explosions occurred, interspersed by hoarse shouts and the sharp staccato of plasma fire. The acrid stench of smoke reached her, causing Ithilia to wrinkle her nose.

Ten minutes passed before the sound of running feet caused Ithilia to pause, uncertain. Who was it? Should she remain in the open, or hide? Before Ithilia could decide, the door slammed open with a loud bang and half a dozen armored elves ran into view. They were immortal elves.

The Queen’s Army.

“Well, if it isn’t the assassin.”

It was the central soldier who’d spoken. Older than Ithilia and yet timeless, she recognized him as one of the few people who knew of the task that Queen Tifa had given her.

“Commander Eonin,” she said, bowing her head. “I’m relieved to see you.”

“I take it that you’re in your current position because you succeeded,” Eonin said calmly. “Did you take the life of Viln Safef?”

Ithilia swallowed. “No sir. I was caught. But if you let me out, I’ll find him and end his life.”

“And why should I do that?” Eonin tilted his head to study her. “You’ve already failed once and our forces are sweeping the complex as we speak. Why would we need a traitor’s blood?”

“Because the task was assigned to me by the Queen herself,” Ithilia explained, ignoring the insult. “Her Majesty won’t be pleased if you deny me this. If you show that you gave me the opportunity, however, the Queen’s favor would be an immense reward.”

Eonin thought for a moment before nodding. “Very well. We’ll give you one last chance and guide you to your task.”

Relief coursed through Ithilia, banishing her conflicting emotions. Eonin directed one of his lieutenants to open the cell door. The woman did and Ithilia stepped out.

“Thank you. I won’t–”

Two of the elves grabbed Ithilia and drove her to the ground, causing her to gasp as her knees bit into the sharp stone. She glanced up to see Eonin’s riffle was pointed at her face.

“Nothing personal,” he said quietly. “It’s the Queen’s orders.”

Shots rang out. Plasma rounds hit the elves standing farthest from Ithilia. They toppled over, the stench of burned flesh filling the air. Eonin whirled. The two elves holding Ithilia threw her into the bars. She hit it with a reverberating clang, but remained where she was.

Eonin and his two remaining soldiers fired through the doorway. Return fire forced them to dive for cover. A stray shot clipped Eonin in the shoulder and he went down, prompting the other two elves to fire faster. A sharp clink echoed over the din. Ithilia saw a silver ball bounce into the room. She closed her eyes, clamping her hands over her ears just as it exploded.

The concussive blast slammed into Ithilia, knocking her hands away and ramming her head into the metal bars. Pain erupted across her skull, causing her ears to ring and leaving her dazed. When she could see again there was a familiar hand in front of her. Ithilia glanced up.

“I’m glad we made it in time,” Viln said.

Ithilia froze. One of the soldiers knives lay within easy reach. Viln was bent over, his weapon slung over his back. She saw the kindness and trust in his eyes. He’d never see this attack coming–if she chose to do it.

Ithilia took a deep breath. She reached out–and clasped Viln’s hand. He smiled and pulled her to her feet.

To the left was Tanor and Yera as well as an Exile she din’t recognize. They stood amongst the dead soldiers, the bodies of which began to glow. They disappeared within a golden, ephemeral light that burned Ithilia’s eyes. The light flashed once and vanished. The soldier’s bodies were gone.

It was called Rebirth. The gift of immortality would send the dead–body and soul–to the Hallowed Chamber where they’d eventually reform. After a period of days, weeks, or even months, they’d step out of the Chamber alive and exactly as they were before they’d died.

Eonin–however–had survived, albeit temporarily. Two more Exiles had him on his knees. A third pulled out a gun and placed it against his temple.

“Wait!” Ithilia dashed towards them, startling the group. She stopped in front of Eonin. “What did you mean by the ‘Queen’s orders’?”

Eonin chuckled. “It’s real simple girl. When the Queen ordered us to eradicate the Exiles, she also instructed us to kill you. In fact, she told us that your death was our highest priority.”

Ithilia shook her head in denial. “But I’ve been loyal to the Queen. Why would she want me dead?”

“Fool.” Eonin spat the word out, his face a mask of disdain. “She’s the Immortal Queen and she doesn’t need a reason to demand anything of you, even your life.”

“We’ll see about that.”

The woman who held the gun to his head fired. Eonin fell backwards. Before his body had hit the floor it was enveloped in golden light. It flared and vanished, leaving the room empty of the Queen’s soldiers.

Ithilia felt tears falling down her cheeks again and brushed them away. A touch on her shoulder caused Ithilia to turn to see Viln, his face full of compassion.

“I’m sorry.”

Ithilia shrugged and looked away.

“How’s the base,” he asked.

“Destroyed,” Tanor replied. “As are most of our people. We’ll rebuild eventually, but the Queen has set us back for years.”

Yadira cursed. “Then we can’t attack the capital, much less take the palace in a fortnight as we’d planned. There’s no way we’d survive.”

“There’s a way.” Everyone turned to Ithilia. She took and deep breath and continued. “I know all the secret passages into the castle. I could help you bypass the guards and take you straight to the Queen.”

“Are you sure,” Viln asked. “You’d be declaring yourself an Exile.”

Ithilia glanced around the room where she’d nearly been murdered. When her gaze returned to Viln, it held determination.

“It seems,” she said quietly. “That I already am.”