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As the first hint of dawn lightened the sky outside their window, she turned to look at her sister.

“Alina,” she said quietly, “I want you to know how much I admire you.”

The older woman smiled and put her hand gently to her sister’s cheek. “Thank you, Calice, my sister. I only wish I were more deserving of your admiration.”

Calice put her hand over her sister’s. “Nonsense, Alina. There is none more deserving than you. The only woman in the whole empire to stand up and say what we all thought.”

Alina withdrew her hand with a sigh. “Much good that it did. All I managed to do was convince good men and women to follow me to-”

“Shush. I hear footsteps.”

They stood and brushed the dirt from their skirts as the key rattled in the lock and the heavy door stood open. A familiar large figure stood silhouetted against the firelight from the torches beyond.

“It’s time,” said the gaoler.

They walked calmly between the guards, down the long torchlit corridor and out into the courtyard. The dawn tinted the sky red as they climbed the steps and faced the gathered crowds.

Alina faltered, her knees trembling as her strength failed her. Her little sister caught her arm and held her up. They stood before the blocks together.

“All you gathered here,” Calice said, her voice clear and strong. “Know one thing. You witness here the execution of the last true good in this land. My sister spoke only for what was right and what was just.”

The gaoler grabbed her roughly by the arms, and a guard stepped forward with a dirty rag to gag her.

“It’s all right,” she said quietly, “I’ve said my piece.”

She knelt down before the block and parted her long dark hair to uncover her neck. Beside her, her sister did the same.

The crowd fell quiet as the executioners stepped forward.

“Alina, voice of the just!”

A single voice rose from the crowd as the executioners lifted their axes.

“Calice, voice of the true!”

A second voice joined the first; a third, and fourth. In moments, it seemed like fully half the crowd was chanting.

The executioners looked to each other, and to the gaoler. He looked up at the emperor, who waved one hand. His soldiers moved into the crowd as the axes fell.

© Kari Fay