She was dying.
Kyrie knew it as surely as she knew the twin moons of Aio and Rosea would chase each other across the sky tonight as they did every night in their endless, flirtatious lovers’ game. Always just tantalizingly out of reach of each other, never touching, but never giving up the delicious pursuit.
And she would watch tonight, jealous, as she did every night, from her pale, cool, moonlit balcony.
Ah, love. Even the moons of her home world had lovers. But there was no one to love her.
Because she was the only one of her kind.
The Knower. The Seer. The law-giver. The justice-dispenser.
Revered—or was it feared?—above all women on Sirene. Worshipped for her ability to see into the heart and mind and pronounce guilt or innocence.
Adored, but alone.
Idolized, but isolated.
And like a common energy cell wearing down, she could feel her talents and abilities being used up. There was no one to sustain her, support her, rejuvenate her.
No one to love her.
And so it would all end here. With her.
And if she was right, it would be soon.
“You look pale, my dear. Shall we recess?”
Kyrie snapped out of her wayward thoughts and turned to the man sitting in the ornate, high-backed chair on the dais beside her. Dressed in all the splendor of his office, Galen Andronicus, declared ruler of Sirene, First Lord of the Imperial House, high commander of the Praetorian Guard, was the master of all he surveyed.
Master of all…except her.
“No recess,” she answered.
“Are you certain? We’ve had sixteen cases already.”
She shook her head. “We still have work to do.” She looked toward the door at the back of the room.
“We will always have work to do,” Galen answered her wryly, “so long as people exist.” He motioned to the guardsman. “Bring in the next one.”
The soldier nodded, opened the door, and a young boy was dragged in, struggling in the grip of two beefy soldiers.
Galen made a small tsk-ing sound. “Guilty. They’re always guilty when they struggle like this, because they know they cannot hide their guilt from you. Shall we skip the formalities and convict him?”
Kyrie shivered at the coldness in Galen’s tone, even though she knew he was right. When they struggled, it was invariably a sign of their guilt.
But she must do her duty.
“No. Bring him to me.”
The boy was drawing closer now, though the guards were having a hard time of it. He was strong, fighting them, and now he was yelling as well. “No, no!”
Kyrie almost felt sorry for him. He looked so young.
“Silence,” Galen roared from beside her, slapping his hand on the arm of his chair. “Do you know who I am, boy? I am Galen Andronicus, your Lord and Master. You will show respect in my presence. Hold your tongue!”
The boy was so surprised by the loud rebuke—or perhaps by the stature of the man who addressed him—that he momentarily ceased his struggles. His eyes darted between what he now knew were the two most powerful people on all of Sirene.
“Bring him here,” Galen ordered the guardsmen. The boy instantly renewed his efforts, fighting with every bit of energy he possessed, but it did no good. He was dragged before Kyrie and forced to his knees.
She took several deep breaths to clear her mind. “Look at me,” she said to the boy.
“No, Mistress!” He tried to turn his head away, but one of the guards grabbed him by the chin and forced his head back around.
“What is the charge?” Galen asked from beside her.
Kyrie blinked. Murder by one so young? “How old are you?”
“Sixteen,” one of the guardsmen supplied.
The boy had his eyes screwed shut, refusing to look at her.
“What is your name, boy?” she tried again.
“Ger-Gervais,” he said, obviously seeing no need to hide that information.
“Gervais,” Kyrie began, “I am going to put my hand right here. See? Like this.” She noticed that, despite himself, the boy opened one eye cautiously to watch her hand. “I’m going to put my hand against your heart. It will not hurt, but you must look at me while I do it. It will go better for you if you do.”
“No, Mistress, I can’t!” He clamped his eyes shut again, the fear in his voice apparent.
“Shall I have the guards pry your eyes open, boy?” Galen threatened, tiring of this particular prisoner. “Or shall we convict you without absolute proof?”
Kyrie silenced Galen with an impatient wave of her hand.
“Gervais,” she soothed. “It’s all right. I already know.”
The boy opened both eyes, daring to glance at her. “Know what?”
“I know,” she repeated vaguely, bringing her hand to his chest. It was a trick she sometimes had to use, though she hated doing it.
He was so surprised he didn’t have a chance to look away. And, of course, by then it was too late.
Kyrie’s eyes caught his, and she saw everything in quick, blinding flashes. The cruel taunting so common among youth, the ensuing fight, the hard blow, and the unintended fatal result. She saw it all. But it was not Gervais who had done this. It had been his brother.
She looked at Gervais in surprise.
The fear in his eyes changed to an awed realization of her true power, and was quickly replaced by a silent plea. “Please, Mistress,” he begged, then added almost too low for her to hear, “he’s only eleven.”
Confusion filled Kyrie’s eyes. This boy wanted her to convict him? Had he actually been afraid she would see the truth and that’s why he had struggled so hard against this?
For a moment she was breathless.
There it was again. Love. An emotion so great, so powerful, so selfless, that one brother would give his life for the other.
An emotion she would never know.
She took one last look into his pleading eyes to be absolutely certain. Then she nodded. “Guilty.”
Gervais blinked rapidly until tears began to run down his face. He bent to kiss the hem of her gown.
But Kyrie was the only one who knew those were tears of gratitude.
“Sniveling, worthless cur,” Galen said in disgust. “Get him out of here!”
The guards dragged Gervais to his feet and backward toward the door, but the boy’s eyes never left hers until he was across the threshold and out of her sight. That look on his face would haunt her dreams tonight, maybe every night for the rest of her life.
She had just sent an innocent to his death.
And she had never done that in the whole of her tenure.
“It’s actually more interesting when they think they can outsmart you.” Galen’s tone was smug. “The ones who come willingly, believing you will think them innocent because they do. It always fascinates me to see the shocked look on their faces when they realize you really can see into their hearts and minds.” He patted her hand. “You are Sirene’s treasure, my dear.”
“It’s been a long day, Galen. You were right. I’m tired. Can we call for a recess?”
* * * *
“Whisper, delicate goddess.
Send your quiet wisdom down
On soft raindrops and
Warm rays of sunshine.”
In her suite that night, Kyrie bowed her head and blew out the candle on her tiny altar to Ceres, the mother of all nature.
Nature was the only comfort to her these days. In nature there was no greed, no lust, no envy, no murder—none of the myriad sins she was confronted with each day.
She thought about the boy Gervais and said a quick prayer. He was dead by now. Justice was swift on Sirene.
Except that his death hadn’t been justice—it had been sacrifice.
She found that particular depth of emotion hard to understand, but seeing it clearly in his eyes, she had found herself unable to deny his wishes.
She drifted to a mirror on a nearby wall and looked hard at her own reflection. The light golden skin, the unreadable green eyes, the long, tawny hair falling almost to her waist. Would anyone ever love her, be able to love her, with that purity of spirit?
She sighed and walked to the glass doors that led to her balcony. She saw the moonlight bathing the cold columns, but she didn’t go outside. She didn’t want yet another painful reminder of something she would never have.
Sirene’s treasure, Galen had called her. How would he react when he found the treasury had been depleted and there was nothing left?
He needed to know. He deserved to know. But how to tell him?
* * * *
“I’m dying, Galen.”
Galen Andronicus, the man who had fought for control of the lawless planet of Sirene twenty years ago and ruled it for the last decade with his weapons and his iron will, was nearly speechless as he stared at the woman in front of him. “You are twenty-five years old, my dear. What makes you possibly think you’re dying?”
Kyrie paced back and forth across his private receiving chamber, her pale, gossamer gown fluttering with her movements.
“It’s true. I can feel my powers and abilities being used up, drained, exhausted.” She stopped and turned to face him. “I need to mate.”
If Galen had been surprised at her previous statement, this one made his mouth drop open in shock. “Mate?”
She turned and resumed her agitated tread. “Yes. I need someone to recharge me, support me—love me. I am winding down, like a chronograph, and unless I find a mate, I will soon be of no use to you.”
“This is not so—”
“It is. You yourself remarked yesterday on how pale I looked. And when was the last time I was so tired I called for a recess?”
This was not welcome news to Galen. She was too important to him in maintaining his iron grip on Sirene. His thoughts raced. “Then we will look for a mate,” he hedged. He knew as well as she did that Kyrie was the last of her kind. There was no mate for her on Sirene.
Kyrie stopped again and turned to him. “I must find out where my people went. I must find them.”
Galen rose from his high-backed chair and took one of her hands in both of his. “My dear, we both know the history. Your people abandoned Sirene two decades ago. No one knows why. And no one knows where they went.”
“Nor why I was left behind.”
Galen heard the hurt in her voice and jumped on it. “Yes,” he agreed. “You were left behind in that shallow, dirty cave. Deserted. Forsaken. Your own people didn’t want you.”
He saw her take a step back as if his words had been a physical blow. If possible, her golden skin paled even more.
“What might have happened to you if I hadn’t found you and brought you into my household? Cared for you? I have loved you, in my way, almost as a daughter.” He again took her hand. “You haven’t been unhappy here, I daresay. You are esteemed above all women on Sirene. Men come before you on bended knee. Your power, your vision, strikes awe in us all.”
“It’s not that I’m ungrateful, Galen. But I must find my people, or I will die.”
Galen sighed dramatically. “But how will you search for them?”
“I will work with the Stargazers. We will determine which would be the most likely planets. I will take a ship—”
Galen felt his indulgence come to an abrupt end.
“You will not leave here!” he roared, dropping her hand. “Since you became Mistress of Justice, lawlessness has declined every year on Sirene. People know now there will be immediate consequences for their actions. My rule is that much more secure because of you. I need you here.” He took a deep breath, and his voice dropped to its usual smooth timbre. “Surely you know how important you are to Sirene, my dear. You cannot leave us.”
A sharp rap on the door interrupted them. A member of the elite Praetorian Guard entered.
“A thousand apologies, sire,” the guardsman said. Then, seeing Kyrie, he fell to one knee with his hand over his heart. “Mistress.”
Galen turned to her. “You see, my dear? Even my most powerful soldiers bow before you. You are blessed among all women.” He glanced at the man. “What is it?”
“An intruder, sire, taken on the castle grounds.”
“An intruder?” Galen repeated in disbelief. “Here? What stupidity. Do you have him with you?”
The guard glanced over his shoulder through the doorway. “Er—I believe he’ll be here in a moment, sire.” A loud crash and much shouting heralded the prisoner’s imminent arrival. “We have him in chains, sire, but—”
The sound of breaking wood and knuckles connecting with flesh made the guardsman cast another wary glance through the doorway.
“Perhaps we should throw him into a cell and you could see him later, sire. We would not endanger your safety.”
A howl of pain followed by a quick “Bastard!” preceded a loud thump and a rattle of iron. The guardsman jumped to his feet with his hand on his weapon, ready to protect the doorway to Galen’s chamber with his life, if necessary.
Galen, unconcerned and even faintly amused by the commotion, sat down in his high-backed chair and drew Kyrie to stand by his right side. He gave her a wry smile. “He is a fool, whoever he is.”
“Ooof!” The guardsman doubled over from an unseen blow and was pulled out of the doorway.
Galen stood, his confidence momentarily gone, as a huge figure loomed in the entryway. The manacles that shackled him seemed ineffective at preventing his progress, and he was inside the room before a handful of Praetorian guardsmen rushed in, weapons drawn. They surrounded him, but it was not the sight of all that firepower that stopped this man in his tracks. No. He was staring at Kyrie, and as Galen turned, he saw that she was staring in equal shock at him.
And for good reason.
This man had golden skin.