Ithilia was furious.

She couldn’t help it, not when she was staring at the person who’d utterly betrayed her and now glanced at her as if nothing had happened.

Queen Tifa smiled. “Hello Ithilia. I see that you’re still alive.”

“No thanks to you!”

Ithilia took a step forward, but was stopped by Viln who grabbed her arm and shook his head. The Queen was alone, but that didn’t mean she was defenseless. Behind them was Tanoer and Yera, riffles held at the ready. They were the only Exiles aside from Viln and Ithilia to make it this far. The rest were either dead, or holding off the Queen’s solders. Despite that–and knowing that they needed control of the Queen–Ithilia hesitated.

“Why,” she asked, staring at the woman she’d served so faithfully. “What did I do to deserve this?”

“It was never about you,” Queen Tifa explained. “It was necessary in order to protect my kingdom.”

“Perhaps you should start at the beginning,” Viln said. “With Banai and Mithiri Avana.”

Ithilia glanced at him in puzzlement. “My parents? They were stripped of their immortality for selling information to the Exiles.”

“They weren’t informants,” Viln explained.

“And Mithiri wasn’t your mother,” the Queen added.

“Not my mother?” Ithilia shook her head. “Then who–”

The sorrowful look in the Queen’s eyes cut Ithilia short and brought about an epiphany she could barely believe.

“You’re my mother,” Ithilia whispered. “But you’re the Immortal Queen. I thought you couldn’t have children.”

“A lie perpetuated to maintain my image,” she explained. “And one that I’ve maintained over the centuries with my lovers except for Bentai.”

“A lie,” Ithilia asked.

Queen Tifa nodded. “He was utterly loyal to his wife who couldn’t grant him a child. And that is how I got you’re father into my bed, by promising to give him one. It wasn’t until you were born and had been living in your father’s household for a year, that I’d realized what I’d done.”

“You stripped them of their immortality to keep your secret,” Ithilia stated. “Laid false charges against them so no one would believe claims about my parentage.”

“I did it to keep our history lost,” Queen Tifa replied. “Your mother knew to much of our true history. I wasn’t always the Immortal Queen. I was a despised ruler facing those who sought to remove me from the throne.”

“Sounds familiar,” Viln replied.

Queen Tifa regarded him with disdain. “Your petty insurrection doesn’t begin to compare. Immortals who don’t die create terrible wars, the kind that tear a planet apart. To stop it, I stripped our people of their immortality.

Ithilia couldn’t believe it. “You stripped everyone of their immortality? How?”

The Queen gestured to the left wall. At first, Ithilia thought that an image was forming on the surface. But as she watched, she realized that the wall was disappearing, revealing a hidden room. At the center was a tree. Leafless, the bark glowed like a star. The tree seemed to contain a strand of every color in existence–just like the Queen’s eyes.

To the left of the tree was a machine, its metallic surface and sharp edges a jarring contrast in comparison. Ithilia didn’t need to know what it was to guess its function.

“The machine keeps the gift of immortality in check,” she stated. “So that it cannot escape to all elves.”

“That’s correct. The Immortal Tree is the origin of our immortality. It’s been safeguarded by the royal family since the dawn of our people. The gift is a part of us and constantly seeks to return to us. The machine prevents it.”

“Then we destroy the machine,” Yadira said, stepping forward. “Your lies will be exposed and the gift will return to the elves.”

“You can’t destroy it,” Queen Tifa replied. “It responds only to those of the royal blood.”

“That’s why you wanted me dead,” Ithilia replied, as the realization dawned. “Because I could undue your work.”

“There were those who wanted me removed as Queen,” Tifa explained. “Your father was sympathetic to their claims and Mithiri–who knew all this–was grateful to have a child. It was possible that this information could come to my enemies, thus upheaving all my work.”

“Their deaths weren’t accidents were they?”

Queen Tifa smiled. “Carefully arranged accidents are always preferable.”

Ithilia screamed. She broke from Viln’s grip and charged. She got about five feet before Viln caught up and grabbed her. Ithilia struggled, trying to get loose. Viln clamped his arms around her, holding her tight.

“Let me go! I’m going to kill her.”

“No Ithilia. She’s still immortal. Even if it was possible, everyone will think you’re a monster and no one will believe what we’ve found.”

Ithilia stopped struggling. Viln was right. Even if Queen Tifa wasn’t stripped of her immortality and executed, they still needed her. The sounds of plasma fire were getting closer and Ithilia doubted that the soldiers would be in a mood to listen.

Viln released her. Ithilia took a deep breath and regarded the Queen.

“It’s over,” she said. “You’re reign is finished and we’ll make sure that all of our people receive the gift of immortality.”

Queen Tifa laughed. It was a harsh sound and it sent a chill down Ithilia’s spine. She suddenly realized that the Queen’s inner glow–the light of her immortality–was getting brighter. Ithilia held up her hand, wincing as the light grew stronger, all but obscuring the Queen. She glanced at Ithilia and smiled.

“I won’t be a prisoner,” she stated. “Nor will I have my immortality stripped of me by the rabble. I’d rather leave this world myself.”

“That won’t stop us,” Ithilia shouted. “If I’m truly you daughter, then I can return the gift to our people.”

“Don’t think that it’ll be easy.” Queen Tifa gazed upwards and smiled. “A pity I won’t see which decision you make.”

The light enveloped the Queen, obscuring her from view. It pulsed once, twice, and then exploded. The blast picked Ithilia up and hurled her against the door.

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