An Elseworlds story, featuring Superman and Wonder Woman in different roles. Some controversial ideas. A new setting. Some mature content.
Night of the Hunter's Moon… and I had to find myself a consort.
Golden light edged my body as I stood before the long, gilded mirror. I spread out my palm over the wrinkles marring the smooth run of the sheer silk gown that I had chosen to wear. A wry smile pulled at my mouth. The practically transparent white silk revealed curves and planes of very bare skin. The gown left very little to the imagination, just as it was meant to. I straightened my shoulders and lifted my chin. Being an aikaterine, the fertile daughter of a queen, it was my time to find a mate. Any way I could. And tonight was the most auspicious night for mate-finding.
"The Empress has opened the Hunt Ball. She looked grim." My sister's face appeared over my shoulder and she grinned at me, her dark eyes shining. "So are you ready to terrify the assembled gathering? Have every half-decent royal male falling to his knees and declaring his complete devotion?"
"Donna…" I hitched my bare shoulder and dislodged her chin. She smirked at me and flopped onto the chaise lounge placed beneath the high, shuttered window. "I know Kara hunts tonight as well. I'll be lucky if I get within ten yards of any man."
"Kara." She rolled her eyes. "No competition for you."
I bit back sour words. Donna was trying to be a good sister and I appreciated it. But we both knew that I, as the first daughter of a minor, provincial queen, was no match for the only daughter, the only daughter of the ruling Empress of a great Empire.
Hera knew, my mother, Hippolyta, was Queen of the Amazons, and it fell to me to fulfill the ancient prophecy. 'The daughter of a queen shall bring forth a child, and the amazons then shall know ever-lasting peace and happiness."
Our Queen's Council had looked at the ancient scripts and texts and had identified the time that this prophecy was to be fulfilled – tonight – on the night of the Hunter's Moon.
My choice of mate unimportant, only the fulfillment of the prophecy counted. My mother refused to bow down to the conquering armies of Krypton. Alone, of all the planetary bodies that Krypton had annexed, my mother's people and our island stood out, alone, defending ourselves against the Kryptonian might. And my mating would result in a child which would bring peace to our island and perhaps, name me as heiress to the ruling Empress' throne.
The Sky Throne was the seat of all power in the Empire and any aikaterine who had mated could inherit the throne. It had been in Kryptonian possession for eons now, since the Empress Lara had ascended to the throne. Empress Lara had used her power to subjugate and annex many planets and nations.
It was too dangerous for my mother to be here with me – but how I wished I had her counsel. Wise advice that too often I had not heeded, would be very welcome now. Only Donna had accompanied me on this crucial night. Our small delegation to the Empress' court for the Night of the Hunter's Moon had been given diplomatic immunity.
For a short while, in keeping with ancient laws, the Empire was at peace and so were we – while the mating ritual of the Hunter's Moon took precedence over all affairs of the Empire.
Kara would have the pick of the men. Well, the pick, with one very important exception. "Is Kal here?"
Donna blinked. "Kal, Kara's brother, Kal?"
I smoothed my hand over my dark hair. "Why shouldn't I aim for him?" Donna bolted upright, her pretence of relaxation gone. Her gaze fixed on mine through the mirror. "Because you only have tonight, Diana. You cannot waste it chasing an impossible goal like Kal-El."
Her lips firmed into a thin line and I knew a speech was coming. "Don't play with your future. Trap a minor prince. A man who has just found his own powers, but has no strength of will. Make sure that by dawn you're safe and ready to build your own future."
I twitched a smile, wanting to lift the seriousness from her dark gaze. It had been a joke. Really. It had.
Kal was the first, natural son of the ruling Empress.
He was so far beyond me it just wasn't funny. "We should have no ambition?"
"We should try to maintain the position we have and not end up hisconcubine."
I rolled my eyes. "Donna, it's a joke. As if I could get within fifteen yards of Kal." Holding up my hand, I offered the spectacle of swearing an oath. "I promise I will find myself some lackluster prince, a man barely turned out of youth. More plucked vegetable than mate." And if I was being honest, I couldn't expect much more than that. "Is that acceptable to you?"
My gaze flicked around the sumptuous room, the gold-pressed wallpaper, gilt fittings, the heavy swathes of royal purple velvet. A huge, ebony four-poster bed dominated the room, with its profusion of satin, fur and silk.
Ambition got a room such as this—complete regal overkill. Ancient power and wealth oozed through the air. "I have to admit, the power of being a major Empress would be tempting." I looked up, wincing at the encrusted chandelier fixed to the ornate ceiling. It groaned with the weight of crystal and enough wattage to light a small planet. "Though I do doubt I could live with the interior design."
Donna snorted. "You'll make a fine queen."
She stood and placed warm hands on my shoulders. I patted her fingers. "Just don't waste the few precious hours you have chasing the impossible. Kal is the Empress's right arm. He'll never give up that power."
"I know." I held back a sigh. The clock on the marble mantelpiece, more gold filigree than actual substance, chimed the hour in liquid tones.
Eight o'clock. Only ten hours in which to prove myself capable of founding a new family, of starting to build my own court.
I would rule them, but Kal's mother, the ruling Empress, would rule the rest of the universe.
The peoples of all the planets that formed the Kryptonian Empire were called celestials and had no real identity. Indeed, once a planet was annexed by Krypton, the identity ceased to exist. It was simply known as Sector 1 or Sector 2, etc. The Kryptonian Empire had only about a dozen solar systems in it but it was a powerful Empire. Only natural-born Kryptonians had the right to any identity and could wear the insignia of the guilds of Krypton, as proof of their citizenship of the planet Krypton. Annexed peoples had to obey the laws that the royal family of Krypton made and enforced.
Pure royal bloodlines like mine and Kal's were rare and our numbers were small, only running to the hundreds. And we kept it that way with the aikaterine, with the ritual of the hunting queen. A queen who survived the ritual—a rare feat, for males are obstinate—was allowed only three daughters and her share in ruling a province or a Sector, and stood to inherit the throne of the Empress. We didn't need a population explosion. A hand of iron was needed to rule wild hearts, so only the strongest women became queens.
I had more than a chance to be the Empress. Moreover, my people and I knew what very few outside of our island knew – I was born on the Night of the Hunter's Moon – as a true daughter of the Hunter's Moon, I was eligible to ascend the Empress' throne, but first, I needed to find a mate. Mating would unleash the ancient Sophia – the wisdom that only females were born with, giving them insights, intuition and powers denied to males.
I had to believe I had that strength because as success brought great power, even for a provincial queen—failure meant a life of servitude to the man I failed to turn into my mate.
I met my sister's concerned gaze in the mirror and tried not to dwell on the latter. "It's time to go down."
Donna pulled her hands free and interlinked her arm with mine. My fingers slid over the soft fabric of her sleeve and the knot in my stomach tightened. Almost every queen, her children and her councils from twelve solar systems were gathered in the great hall to see in our new year…and to offer a large selection of candidates for two hunting aikaterines.
My bare feet padded silently over the thick, cool carpet. Bare, so that I could chase down my quarry with ease. Donna pulled open one of the high doors, the wood dragging through the thick pile. I would have to do an inordinate amount of running, mainly as most of the men would be hounding Kara around her ancestral home.
With the exception of one man.
We walked in silence along the corridor, my feet smacking against the dark oak floor. It had been a joke. If I chased Kal then I would be sklava, no more than his slave, beholden to him for the rest of my life. He had a clutch of former aikaterines, evidence that he couldn't be caught. And yet…
I wanted to ignore the feeling, tried to push it back down into the dark recesses where it belonged, but it surfaced again. I'd met Kal once, when my foster sister Artemis had hunted. I was just old enough to attend and had been in awe of the glamour of so many gathered queens and their minions. And then there'd been him.
Tall, lithe, with the devastating beauty all Kryptonian males hold, every eye in the great hall had focused on him and the ruling Empress. My gaze had skirted over her, an ancient law-maker, whom even the warmth of her Council couldn't keep young anymore. I'd tried to hold my gaze on her perfect, unlined skin but something in Kal tugged at me.
My gaze seared over his male perfection and my heart thudded. I had stood beside Artemis, rooted to the floor, while a fierce animal hunger had surged through every muscle and bone.
He had glanced at me as he swept past, his mother's hand gripping his arm. Eyes darker than the deepest shadow cut deep into my flesh, almost as though he was seeing through my gown. Kryptonian males could choose to use their vision thus, to see through objects as if they were inconsequential and indeed to Kryptonians, many objects were inconsequential. Something in his gaze had touched me and the first flicker of an ember lit deep within the pit of my stomach. His mouth had twitched, mocking me…and then he was gone, lost in the enveloping crowd.
Even now, thoughts of him roused my emotions. No doubt every hunting female reacted to his power and beauty in the same way. I had to deny my baser needs and settle for a less appetizing mate.
Donna and I followed the curve of the stairs down to the grand hall. The ceremony to open the Hunting Ball had gone ahead without me. The Empress didn't want me upstaging her daughter, after all. That was fine by me. Already guests mingled in the antechamber leading through to the hall. Eyes flicked up, skirted over my body, found my face and then dropped away. I wasn't the aikaterine they wanted.
My sister placed her hands over my fingers and squeezed. "Remember, don't let your emotions rule you. Tonight is about strategy as much as it's about finding a man so that you can play."
"I know, Donna," I murmured and tried not to let the image of myself sporting with Kal drive sense from my brain. "I plan to find a nice prince, preferably lame and not too bright, whack him over the head and have the Empress grant me my province."
Her dark eyes narrowed. "Funny, Diana."
"Are you going to be careful too?"
"I don't have anything to do. My time has not yet come." Donna snagged a long-stemmed glass from a waiter and passed it to me before she grabbed one for herself.
"A minor queen's second daughter?" She smirked at me. "I don't really need to mate and continue the line."
I took a cautious sip of the clear liquid. The sharp burst against the back of my mouth had me gasping and fire flaring through my blood. "Nektar." The word was little more than a hiss. "Her Grace is sparing little expense tonight."
Donna shrugged. "Her only daughter is hunting."
"And you'll be what…?" I knew exactly what she'd be doing. She was right, Donna did not have to worry about future-proofing the people, not with me around. So she would watch the play from the viewer's gallery and perhaps, enjoy herself with one or two freshly blooded males."
Her smirk deepened. "Maybe."
"I hate you."
"Next year you can cavort with the rest of us. I won't be aikaterine for at least three years." She stepped back from me. "Time for you to shine, Diana."
She smiled warmly, her dark eyes serious. "I still want to have a big sister in the morning, one I can talk to freely and not have to bribe a certain first son for the privilege."
"I promise, some nice little prince as my insipid new husband."
"Good." She waved her hand to the open doors leading into the grand hall. "Enjoy."
"The next aikaterine? I'm going to put in a good word for you."
"No one will catch me."
"Keep a hold of that confidence." I patted her cheek. "Remember it when some lordly prince has you on your knees."
I turned from my sister and willed myself to enter the circular hall. More crystal and royal purple heavy fabric swathed the room, golden light spilling down on the assembled guests.
Already, the crowd thinned, guests drifting off to find other entertainment…and to make themselves available to Kara. I lifted my chin as eyes drifted over me and slipped away with disinterest. I was the daughter of a minor queen, who would only snag a minor mate. No one at the illustrious gathering needed to curry favor with me.
People parted, not from respect, but from the strong desire for me to have no contact with them. It pulsed through the air, amplified by the amount of nektar consumed. I took another sip, letting the fiery liquid simmer and evaporate on my tongue. The Empress was rumored to have herds of the nectarivores who milked the nektar giving flowers.
I took another sip, fire flickering through my veins, and I had to wonder whether she'd decimated those flowers for this Hunter's Moon celebration.
I moved through the crowd until I found myself in the shadows of an alcove. Curving around to my left were the arched glass doors leading out onto the terrace. The glass reflected the sparkle of the lights, the brilliance of too much jewelry. I leaned against the cool silk lining the walls and let out a slow breath.
I should've made a list, picked out the men most likely to want to mate with a minor queen. But I hadn't. An idiot part of me didn't want to be practical. It wanted… I froze. There he was. Kal. I forced breath in and out of my body and pressed my tongue against my palate.
He stood with the Empress, his expression serious. He hadn't changed in the decade since I'd first lit a spark for him. Standing a full head taller than the men surrounding him, golden light edged his carved features, shimmering against his black hair. He still held the incredible and powerful beauty that had my breath tight in my chest. I willed back the insistent beat of my heart, but my body had a mind of its own.
My body wanted the innate power that flowed from Kal, wanted to him to sink himself in me, and mix his power with mine, binding me to him through eternity.
A low growl emerged from my lips without my willing it and reverberated, but luckily the shadows hid me and the sound lost strength in the noise of the room.
I forced myself to focus on his mother to kill the need I had to jump Kal. A graceful, cool woman with her fingers dug like claws into her son's arm. The thin circlet of gold, the ruling Empress's crown, twined through the heavy piles of her blonde hair. Her face seemed paler than I remembered, more lined, and tiredness hung on her. Her age was a jolt of reality. I needed it. Kal was her strength now. He would never kneel before another.
I willed my gaze to the gaggle of women standing behind Kal. Clad in blue silk and standing with dignified calm, their heavy red and gold collars gleamed, each with the pentagon of Kal's insignia in the centre of the collar. Kal's sklavas, former aikaterines foolish enough to try to make such a powerful man their mate. They'd become his playthings, condemned to be used as he saw fit. And they were condemned to wear the pentagon as a sign that they would never burn it from their skin—the true mark of a queen being the ability to burn that pentagon to black ash. There was no lower degradation for us. And it would be a fate that awaited me. No, I wouldn't be stupid enough to—
Blue eyes that had turned darker than shadow held mine briefly. All of my previous logic vanished. Heat flared through me, hotter than the lingering burn of essence.
The ember in the pit of my stomach sank lower down my body and became a gentle flame, and the corresponding gleam in Kal's gaze almost had me pushing away from the wall and closing the distance between us. But I willed my bare feet still and dug my toes into the warm wood. I made myself smile arch, rolling my tongue and tasting salty saliva on my lips, and Kal's eyes narrowed.
I ignored the thrum in my blood, the wet ache between my thighs. Anger bubbled under my thoughts, evidence that my body was not happy with the decision to turn down Kal's challenge. And the bastard had challenged me.
Did he want to add to his collection? He already had seven women bound to him.
I put my glass on a cloth-covered table. Drinking more nektar would only set my baser needs free, and I wanted that like I needed a hole in the head. I snagged small bites of snacks from the table, needing to dull the fire scorching through my gut and taking the edge off my primitive hunger.
I would try my luck in the darkened corridors winding through the great house.
The anger eased and anticipation bloomed heat in my chest. I focused on the hunt and the need to quickly snare a mate and thought of the strategy Donna and I had discussed.
More guests parted before me, some of them scrambling back, fear streaming off them. I twitched a smile and more than one prince flinched. They'd picked up my scent, the soft, seductive spice of a fertile female, one on the hunt and planning to bring a man to his knees before her.
A queen glared at me, eyes sliding quickly around, defensive of the brood of eligible princes – fresh and newly blooded into the Empire's Guard. None of the ones remaining in the grand hall had any fear from me. Every male who could was out to find Kara. With one exception. And that exception had my skin prickling. Damn it, I could feel the hot slide of his gaze down my back and it had me wet. Spice-laden scent drifted around me, a heady aroma that burned power through my blood.
I pulled in a deep breath and stopped at the dark doorway leading into the interior of the palace. My hand gripped the doorknob as I took a calming and reassuring breath. I was queen designate, and I was destined to rule a sector – governing until such time as my mother left her throne to me. My ascending to her throne required that I mate first and bear children. A queen needed a mate to father her daughters, to bring order to her household.
I glanced behind me. The room had dropped to silence, all attention focused on me. A smile curved my mouth. It was a smile meant to taunt one man, a man not worthy of me. But Kal no longer stood beside the Empress
My smile deepened. Fire raced through my body. His disappearance could only mean one thing. He still meant to challenge me and a delicious growl escaped my lips.
Yes, Kal, like all the others who wanted to be hunted that night, had left the hall.