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Ruling Sikthand: Chapter 14

Sophia trudged back to her room, thoughts swirling. Alno had tried to get her to eat a little at dinner, but she was too distracted. What did this mean for her? What did it mean for the humans in Tremanta?

Did she even want to go back there now? There was nothing stopping the Queen from sending her right back out into the world.

“I’m sure the king will allow you to stay,” Alno whispered.

Her attention drifted to him. “I don’t want to stay.”

The corner of his mouth curled down. “You…you want to go back?”

“No,” Sophia breathed. At least she knew that much. “I want to know what happened to my group. I want to go somewhere I’m safe and free.” Rage suddenly flared in her, and she hurled her napkin-wrapped leftovers down the hall. “Is that really so much to ask? I want to choose for my fucking self. Not be bounced around like a damn pinball.”

Alno fell silent again, and Sophia didn’t have the energy to restart the conversation. By the time they reached her room, she was boiling. She hated every last Clecanian at this moment, including Alno, and she didn’t care how irrational that was.

He walked into her room ahead of her but halted abruptly, making her collide with his back. “Ow. Your fucking tail…scraped…” Her voice died out. “Me.”

Sikthand was in her room, spread out in a chair by a roaring fire in the hearth she’d never even tried to light. He was flipping through the pages of… My sketchbook!

“Hey!” she blurted, rushing toward him with the intention of snatching it away.

Before she could reach him, he’d stood, tossed the sketchbook onto a low table with a heavy thump, and aimed a stony stare at Alno. “Go.”

She wanted to throw out a mean-spirited comment as Alno fled, something about him running with his tail between his legs, but she couldn’t form anything coherent before he was gone. Probably better that way. He didn’t deserve it.

She snatched the book from the table and chewed on the inside of her cheek, forcing her attention toward the king. Sikthand’s skin was paler than usual, his hood a slightly less intense shade of oblivion black than normal, and his hair was loose and wavy around his spike-tipped shoulders. Flickering fire reflected in his armor, making the metal glow.

This room was large—massive, even. And yet he seemed to take up all the air.

“What are you doing in my room?” she asked, clutching her book to her stomach. He’d only ever been in here once, and the room had looked very different then. The fire popped, making her flinch. She knew he must have access, but his intimidating presence only a few feet from where she slept every night was both unsettling and far too intimate.

“If you prefer I not enlighten you as to what my Guild and I discussed, I can leave.” His voice was colder today. It contained no hint of that smooth heat that made her breath hitch.

He was a stranger again, and the small crush she’d been harboring cowered behind a healthy spike wariness. She should chastise him for being in her room, for looking through her things, but if today had reminded her of anything, it was that she was not a guest in this city. And King Sikthand could do whatever he wanted. “No, I’d like to know. Sorry.”

He stared, something like fury glinting behind his eyes. A muscle twitched in his jaw.

Sophia forced herself to hold her ground and keep her breathing even.

“The Guild, in its infinite wisdom, has decided that you and I shall be married.”

The words echoed in her mind. A buzzing warmed her ears, and her arms went numb. The loud crack of her book hitting the ground made her jolt in place. She looked down at it, unseeing.

Her gaze met his bright silver stare, and reality snapped back into place. She swept the book off the floor. “That’s…” She shook her head, studying his expression. Had he agreed? Did he assume she’d be marrying him? Or was he telling her so they could share a joke? So they could laugh at the silliness of his Guild together.

“It’s ludicrous,” he growled, answering her unasked questions.

She blew out a short chuckle. “Yeah. Okay, for a second I thought…” Her relief was short-lived when he didn’t laugh with her. “You said no, right?”

The muscle in his jaw jumped again, and he turned toward the fire. “I made my objections known. Unfortunately, they are in agreement on this particular issue.”

Sophia’s pulse thundered through her veins. “Does that mean I—”

“While I am forced to go along with their whims”—his gaze speared through her—“you are not. If you tell them no when they ask, this will be through, and you can go on with your life.”

Sophia stilled. “What does that mean? Go on with my life?”

He shrugged, firelight dancing in his eyes. “You’ll be free to return to Tremanta.”

She scrunched her brows, staring at the floor and pacing. Her gaze flicked toward him as she walked, keeping him in her sights. Something was nagging at her, but she couldn’t focus through the cacophony of feelings swirling inside. If he freed her, she could go back to Tremanta or somewhere else. But where?

Though just because she didn’t know where to go next didn’t mean she should stay here. And certainly not if that meant she’d be forced into a marriage. She eyed Sikthand and noted the scowl darkening his expression. Clearly she’d be forcing him into a marriage if she agreed as well.

Her head snapped up, her body going still. “Wait, would this marriage be temporary?”

“No,” he growled.

“Does that mean…” The ground seemed to shift under her. She spun toward the king. “Would that make me…” Sophia couldn’t seem to push the word past the disbelief knotting her throat.

“Queen.” He spat the word. “That is how it works,” he sneered.

Sophia laughed at that. A high, delirious laugh that had not an ounce of humor in it. “What?” she all but shrieked. “That’s just…” She shook her head and licked her dry lips. “Why? Who the hell would want me as queen? I’m not Vrulan.” She let out another panicked laugh. “I’m not even Clecanian.”

“I think it’s as preposterous as you do.” Sikthand strode toward her large dressing mirror. His steps were smooth, but she could almost see the rigidity of his muscles beneath his armor. “They believe having a human queen will make other humans more likely to want to settle here.”

A light bulb crackled to life in Sophia’s mind. How many out there felt the way she did on some level? How many were stuck, not wanting to remain in Tremanta, but not knowing where else to go? If she were the queen of this city, could she provide a safe place? Could she help?

As if he could see the wheels turning and her interest shifting, Sikthand’s tail scraped across the stone, drawing her eyes. “You do not want this. Do you think my people will take kindly to a human queen? They’ll disembowel you.” He stepped closer, and she backed away at the brutal hatred oozing from his gaze. “I don’t want this. I don’t want you.”

Sophia stumbled back another step. The venom coating his statement stung more than she thought it would.

“Our marriage would be a cold one. No affection. And how do you expect to rule Vrulans? You’re weak.” He surveyed her from head to toe and grimaced. “My people don’t abide weakness. Not in their leaders, and not in their beds.” He was within a few feet now, and tears were burning at the edges of Sophia’s eyes. “You can’t be their queen, and you will never be my queen.”

A tear broke, slipping down her cheek. Sikthand eyed it disdainfully. But the hot track of the tear made fury bubble up inside her. “And you think I want you?” she hissed. “You’re cruel and cold, and you lock up anyone who looks at you wrong. You’re just a scared boy. I might be weak, but at least I don’t pretend not to be.”

His hand shot out and sealed around her throat, forcing her feet back until her spine slammed against the cold stone wall. She regained her breath with a gasp.

“Careful, female.” His growl was deadly.

The chilled metal of his gauntlet and her spike of adrenaline had her shivering within his firm hold, but fire still coursed through her veins. “And you certainly stare at me a lot for someone who finds me so repulsively weak.”

The corner of his mouth curled in a cruel smile. “Have you mistaken my curiosity to fuck an alien as genuine interest?”

She bit the inside of her lip to keep her chin from wobbling.

He dropped his face so their eyes were level and their mouths only a breath apart. His hand caging her neck, squeezed gently. “You’ll visit the Guild tomorrow night. I pray your underdeveloped human brain is capable of seeing sense before then.”


Sikthand bared his fangs. He was letting all his self-loathing show on his face and allowing her to believe she was the cause. He’d anticipated making her angry, but he hadn’t prepared himself for making her cry.

He stepped away, pulling his hand from her neck, and forced himself to watch as another silent tear dripped from her lashes. His chest cracked open at the sight.

It was better this way.

He stalked out of her room and down the hall, not bothering to close the door behind him. When he was safely in his room once more, he heaved in thundering breaths.


His eyes lifted to his mirror.

Don’t go.

He flung his gloves off, then pulled at the armor on his neck, suddenly unable to breathe. The battered pieces crashed to the floor, teeth-grinding clanging filling the room. When it was all off, even the bits on his tail, he snatched a chest plate from the ground and pounded the metal in with a fist until it bowed.

Sikthand stood, knuckles bloody and stomach lurching. He stared at the mirror. Then, unable to hold himself back any longer, he walked through and crept down the passage to her mirror. Sweat poured down his spine as he sat in the chair he’d dragged here days ago. He kept his eyes shut, licking his lips and mentally preparing to see what damage he’d left behind.

He let out a deep breath through his nose, then looked. What he saw made him want to rip his own tongue out. She was sitting on the ground, her book of drawings propped open on her lap, and she was crying. Not the contained, silent tears from before, but deep sobs that shredded his insides.

Watch, coward, he hissed to himself.

She peered down at the book in her lap again, then let out a fury-filled shriek and hurled it into the fire.

He flinched. There had been more than a few drawings of him in there.

Her features, tight with anger, fell when the flames flared, consuming the little book in a flash. Her lips parted as though she couldn’t believe what she’d done. Then her shock turned to misery again, and she buried her face in her hands.

To keep himself from crashing through the mirror and pulling her into his arms, Sikthand retreated back down the passageway. He didn’t stop at his room. He flew through the wing until the violent wind howling through the landing bay forced his steps to slow, and called for Ahea.

Only when he was in the most deserted area of the Choke would he let himself explode.

The human has to go.

A little evil thing inside him whispered, Why, though?

He shook his head. Sikthand would not listen to that voice again. The one that tried to convince him he could lower his guard. He’d listened to it before, many times, and he’d only ever been proven a fool.

Once she was gone, things would get better. His mind would return, and he could go on with his life.

He stared at the hazy halo around the nearest moon, a sure sign a storm was on the horizon. The silhouette of Ahea’s enormous spread wings flashed by. Soon, he’d bury himself in a storm. Surely bolts of electricity sizzling by his ears would banish the memory of her tear-stained cheeks.

Even as he had the thought, he knew it wasn’t true.


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