The twin suns had just set on the refuge world when Lyssa Tri-Righa decided to end her brother’s life. She swept into the audience room and nobody could look her in the eye, reading her mood and purpose.

Ariaen Kyle waited for her, a lithe figure who seemed to carry shadows with him.

“All is ready, Lady.” His voice grated with exhaustion, a rare display in one trained to hide such things.

She had been away too long, leaving him to handle the evacuation when she should have stayed. Her advisors persuaded her to safety so they could save their own noble skins. Most were dead now for assassins had followed the Royal party like wolves to finish what they started. Her brother should have died that day. Instead, Lyrna was a mind-burned shell kept alive by the Chamber of Crystal, an existence worse than death. Seven faceless conspirators had planned to use him as a figurehead to seize power. Five out of the seven went to the Execution Wall and another committed suicide before he could be taken there. One was still active and unknown.

Lyrna was a target now his sister had returned to her throne. They would continue to strike as long as his life force persisted. The new ruler of a world that would never be home forced herself to stay calm as her honor guard fell into step behind her.

“You should be with the Healers.”

The reports worried her and in truth, he had been close to death, a wound from the last defense with no time to treat the infection. Ariaen still bore the guilt of not dying with the rest of his clan even though there had never been a choice.

“They have enough to do,” he said and let the matter drop. They fell into the relaxed stride that would have shocked her Protocol Advisor if the old man had lived to see it.

The rest of the Guard returned to duty, for they wanted no part what was to follow.

Lyssa stopped outside the twisted hedge of spun crystal and copper wires that marked the first barrier. Her brother lay in the center, his head supported by Master Crystals. Motes of internal brilliance danced over his face, giving it a semblance of life but that was a false hope for Lyrna would never recover. Before the attack, he had been fearless and unequaled among the fighting nobles. His future stripped away so that only a shadow wraith of the past remained. Crystal encased him now, glowing as it kept his wasted body alive.

“It is time,” she saw her bodyguard’s face shift back to the tight mask of duty but, for a split second, she saw disquiet. She paused as the wall of scintillating crystal slid open and warm sterile air blew out. Such a place as this was beyond Ariaen’s understanding. He came from a traditional house not given to prolonging life for its own sake. To him, the Chamber insulted Gods and Ancestors but he would never say that. He punched in the second security code as the coiled tension stretched to breaking point.

Then he stopped, sensing the intruder a heartbeat before the needle gun click broke the silence. Gas propelled and loaded with potent nerve toxin, the silent darts killed in seconds and there were ten in the clip.

“That is far enough,” Lord Rylla Duir stepped out the shadows, his pleasant voice unsuited for making threats. He had always been Lyssa’s closest ally and thought beyond suspicion. “I cannot allow you to send your dear brother on his way. He is needed.”

The implication clear, Duir smiled, scenting victory. “You understand this is not personal. What I do now, I do only in the best interests of our people.”

Lyssa heard her bodyguard curse, furious at being caught off guard. She pulled him back from suicide and reached out until they were linked.

His sendings were effortless, laconic. Lady, do it now or not at all.

She gathered her will and focused on the Master, weaving the strands of thought in a complex pattern. The increased psychic energy made the crystal pulse; waves of color over its surface as the core turned red. Brother. Help me. Answer my summons and punish the traitor.

The powerful Lord of the Duir clan had survived many attempts on his life by keeping a step ahead of his opponents. For a moment, his composure slipped. “Enough of that,” he said when he realized what she was doing but the words had already been said. “Stop or I will shoot.”

He did not have time to pull the trigger.

“I will not let you hurt her,” Lyrna’s voice took on a dangerous quality as the spirit from the crystal array materialized as a swarm of rapid moving lights.

They floated in the air like candle boats on a sacred pond, moving with a single, united purpose. Each one glittered as strongly as the iridescent array that gave it form. Their touch sent shards creeping through the bloodstream to turn infected flesh to crystal.

The last act of one born and raised to inherit the title of Tri-Righa was to destroy the usurper. The doomed man screamed for as long as he was able before his vocal chords crystallized. Pale green spar crept over his face giving him a personal stasis field that would never be reversed.

Ariaen was quick to remember his duty. “Is all well?” He bent to pick up the gun and quickly disabled it, even though such weapons had been outlawed for a century.

She nodded. A violent urge rose and she lashed out with a banshee wail. Modulated to newly formed crystal, her scream broke the treacherous noble into a thousand pieces.

“It is now,” she said, feeling the tension lift.

Lyrna’s spirit lingered in the chamber that had been his prison but soon he would be free. She whispered a last farewell to him as the light in the Master Crystal flickered and died.