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Ruling Sikthand: Chapter 15

Sophia wrung her hands together as covertly as she could. All but one member of the Guild sat before her. Lady Lindri had apparently been called away due to an emergency in the mines and was just now on her way back.

She’d purposefully gone without food today, knowing that her already queasy stomach would not be able to hold anything down during this meeting. A wave of lightheadedness hit her, and she regretted her decision.

She peered up at each guildmember eyeing her with burning curiosity and tried to hold their stares. There was only one set of eyes she avoided, and they belonged to the black and white demon sitting higher than the rest.

After Sikthand had eviscerated her confidence and left, Sophia had devolved into a weeping puddle. She’d cried for so long her throat burned and her head throbbed. She’d cried until there’d been no tears left, and then she’d reflected.

Every path she could imagine had been examined that night, and all roads led to one terrifying conclusion.

Lindri burst through the doors, wiping soot off her cheek, her curly hair still smoking slightly, and stumbled into her seat with the rest.

Sophia’s shoulders tensed when the heavy doors slammed closed behind her.

“I bestow my trust.” His voice sent a pulse of heat through her. But this time, it was the heat of anger.

“And we ours,” she grated, eyes dutifully on the ground.

“Sophia, you’ve come to respond to the Guild’s request for us to be wed. What do you have to say?” The king’s voice was tight but also a little bored, as if he knew what she was going to say already.

This is what I practiced. Just look up. Be strong.

After a moment more of internal arguing, she gathered her courage, lifted her chin, and took her time looking each member of the Guild in the eye. “The king told me what you all decided.” She swallowed. The words weren’t quite ready to leave her throat. “I’ve taken some time to think it over.” God, she hoped she wasn’t making the wrong decision. She finally forced her eyes to connect with the king’s narrowed gaze. His distaste helped lock in her courage. “I agree to be your queen,” she declared, spine straight and head held high.

Relieved breaths echoed around the room, but she kept her gaze on the king. His chin dipped forward, his fangs peeking out under his upper lip. Sophia glared back. She might be physically weaker than the Clecanians, but that didn’t make her weak of will. It didn’t make her any less smart or any less capable. In all likelihood, she’d turn out to be a truly shitty queen. Underqualified was an understatement. But if there was even the barest possibility she could help her people, she wouldn’t let this asshole’s dislike of her keep her from doing just that.

“I’ll make all the arrangements,” Besith called. “Master Bavo, I’ll need that budget you drew—”

“But”—she lifted her brows, heated gaze still locked with the king’s seething one—“I have a few conditions.”

The room fell silent. “Conditions?” Madam Kalos asked blankly.

“You realize you’ll be queen, girl? You should be thanking us.” Commander Copperhead chuckled.

She pursed her lips and sliced her gaze toward Roldroth. “Sophia. Not girl,” she chastised with a confidence she didn’t feel.

This was the moment she’d been waiting for. The one she’d been practicing for all night. She’d gone over absolutely everything she’d learned about this city and its people. She’d replayed every bit of information she’d learned about the king. And most importantly, she’d recounted what she knew about the humans and the politics that would shape the world in the next few months.

Her conclusions had been clear and exhausting. From the moment she agreed to become queen, Sophia would need to change. She’d replayed the Tremantian Queen’s first public speech in her mind and had taken notes. Be strong. Be confident. Bullshit your way through.

Sikthand’s words from last night rang in her ears, and she knew the Vrulans thought the same. They believed she was weak. The first time she spoke to them, she’d need to make a statement. She’d need to show that she no longer considered herself a prisoner. She was a future queen, and she would be taken seriously.

She raised a brow toward the commander. “I believe you asked me to be queen because you know you need me. Isn’t that right?”

The commander’s mouth shut.

“I’m the one who knows what to say to make humans want to come here. And I’m also very likely to get my head chopped off for my efforts, if some are to be believed.” She shot a glance toward the king, who gave her a cold smile in return. “So, I have conditions.”

“And what would they be?” the king all but hissed.

“One, you will let Heleax go. There’s no reason he needs to be kept locked up here.” She spoke over the murmuring guildmembers. “Two, I will be allowed to go wherever I want, whenever I want, and speak to whomever I want, without an attendant. I’ll get a communication code so I can receive private messages from outside the city. In short, I am not a prisoner here anymore. I am a future queen, and I expect to be treated as such.” Sikthand sat back on his throne, looking down his nose at Sophia. “And three…” She licked her lips again, knowing this demand might be the one that broke the camel’s back. “Our city votes for the planetary representative of my choice.”

Angry muttering broke out around the room now.

“Surely you can have a say, but we’ll need to choose who we think is best.”

“You’re too new to all this. What if you choose someone terrible?”

“Hey!” She clapped twice, her breathing quick and shallow. When they eyed her hands, she hiked her shoulders. “I don’t have a tail.” She said matter-of-factly to explain why she hadn’t tapped twice as was customary when asking to speak.

Sophia feared the action only further highlighted her differences, so she launched back in before they could think too hard on her tail-less-ness. “I will not be a queen in name only. If I am your queen, I ask for the same respect, responsibility, and authority that King Sikthand holds. And in return, I will give you an advantage that no other city on this planet can claim. Having a human queen will not only make Vrulatica more attractive to the humans on Earth, but I can offer the Guild and our people a perspective only an Earthling can provide. I’ll be able to tell which candidate will be best received by my government, and I know which will have them pointing their rockets into the sky. Respectfully, you are only able to see things from one side. I can tell you Vila will not do as well as she thinks. She’s too cocky, and unfortunately many of the leaders on our planet still have issues with women in leadership being competent at their jobs and saying so out loud. She isn’t the smartest choice.”

The guildmembers eyed each other with raised brows, clearly surprised by this. Sophia’s chest bowed. She’d had to convince herself all night and all day that she actually had something to offer as queen. And now she saw a glimpse of what she’d been trying to convince herself of reflected in their exchanged glances.

She could do this. Her eyes met Sikthand’s again, and goose bumps rose on her neck. That was, if he didn’t kill her first.

“That’s why my third condition is so important. And it’s also why I won’t be marrying anyone until my vote is cast at the Leaders’ Summit.”


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