Ailke hung limply from the ceiling. Her wrists were long since rubbed raw. Occasionally, her captor would provide healing salves that seemed oddly druidic in nature. The only clothing she�d been allowed was a gaudy, awful, and now blood-stained bright orange cloth gown. Well, more a tattered piece of cloth than a gown, but it covered her, thankfully. She�d been allowed that small piece of dignity. The younger gnomish assassin was a monster. She�d heard�seen the aftermath of some of Star�s victims, but never imagined this.

The poison still burned through her body, the antidote hadn�t quite gotten it all yet. How much more of this could she take before her body quit on her? It had been weeks, she thought. Days and nights blurred together. When Star entered the room, it dropped in temperature such that Ailke felt her body was being dipped and held under the waters of an icy lake. Curiously, Star seemed not to feel the cold. A mage ability, she supposed. Confirming the rumors of Star being a frost mage. Ailke loathed being held captive by a dirty magic flinger. Inferior creatures as they were.

As the dagger sliced into her, Ailke let out a weak whimper, remembering that Star was more than a mage. She was a rogue first. It was almost unfair. A rogue and a mage. Unfair, not right. Another cut and Ailke wanted to scream, but had long since lost the will. Even if she were freed, she wouldn�t be able to escape or fight. Her body was too weak, too battered.

�Ya know, Ailke. I�ve never had anyone hold out as long as you. Almost impressed.� Star sighed heavily and walked across the room.

Ailke coughed, shoulders sagging. She dangled inches above the floor, shivering in the cold.  �Aim to please.�

�You endangered my children, Sword. I�m not happy about that. Not at all.�

�Wouldn�t be�either.� Ailke�s voice still functioned well. Star had been sure the assassin had plenty of water. She couldn�t give information if she couldn�t talk, after all. For all of Star�s cruelty, she was practical. �Surprised you haven�t lost control yet.�

Star paused. It�d gotten to her. �I�m not as crazy as they make me out to be.� She picked up another tool. Ailke couldn�t make it out in the darkness, but it didn�t look familiar.

�Hm. I guess not.� As Star approached, there was some hesitation in her icy gaze. Why was that? Ailke closed her eyes, bracing for what was going to come next.

�I�m going to kill you anyway, Ailke. You might as well say something helpful.�

The chained gnome opened her eyes, blinking. There was such hatred and darkness in this gnome a bit ago. Traits she recognized as shared with Ceera. But those eyes�maybe more like a sky than ice. No wonder she�d heard Robin was jealous. She blinked again. Blue�



�Star�what color are Ceera�s eyes?� How had this never occurred to her before? The thought hit Ailke hard, like a brick. She may have even been hit by a brick recently, she couldn�t recall.

The other assassin tilted her head. �Brown�why?�

�Shit, Star!� The strength of her own voice surprised her. Ailke twisted around in her chains. �We�ve all been so stupid! Star�let me down. You have to let me go.�

Star blinked. Ailke signed in relief as Star stuffed the mystery torture tool through her belt. �What. You�ve got to be kidding me. Give me one good reason. A. Damn. Good. Reason.�

�Selena.� Ailke said quietly. �I did it for Selena.� A weight seemed to lift off of her shoulders as the words came out. �Ceera agreed to release her�if I�.�

Star stared at Ailke in disbelief as the meaning of the words became clear. �Selena…is yours. And�she has no idea, does she?�

�Ceera took her. Convinced her. I don�t know. I found out after her foster parents were slaughtered. I don�t know how that damned spell-flinger knew about that. I don�t know why she picked me. I�m not working for pay, Star. I�m working for my�.� Ailke trailed off. She stared at the floor.

�Your daughter. Dammit.� Star stood there, what little bit of gnomanity there was inside of her was winning through.

�I don�t think that Ceera is who you think she is. Who we thought she is. Who she says.�

Star nodded slowly. �It could just be a spell. Illusions wouldn�t be hard for her.�

�It could be, or you�ve been fighting the wrong enemy.�

What would that mean? Who was Ceera�if she wasn�t�? Star, against her better judgment, began unshackling Ailke. A few moments later, the older assassin dropped to the floor less than gracefully. Star steadied her until she was able to stand of her own accord.

�Been thinking. The entire time I�ve been here. It�s a different brand of cruelty. There�s glee in what she does, but not like you. Yours is blind enjoyment. Hers is methodical. Planned, but also has a righteous edge to it. Get it?�

Star began to pace the room. Ailke sank to the floor and began massaging her wrists.

�You�re saying. Ceera is…?� Star couldn�t bring herself to say it. It was too wrong, too insane. Too much trickery. So, thorough.

�Yes, Star. Last bit of evidence. She�s a fire mage.�

There were only two words that came to Star�s mind before she began gathering up Ailke�s gear and tossing it over to the weakened assassin. �Oh, shit.�

Ailke mimicked her. �Oh, shit, indeed.�

Author Robin
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