Ruling Sikthand: Chapter 39


Sophia, and the remaining members of the Guild still in Vrulatica, sat in the communications outbuilding waiting for the broadcast of the vote to begin. Sikthand had only been gone for two days, yet she missed him fiercely.

Her spirits lifted when she reminded herself he’d be home tomorrow. Close to vibrating with excitement at the thought, Sophia hid her wide grin and stared hard at the space where the broadcast would begin.

She supposed it was a good thing he’d gone away. Maybe he’d finally get some sleep. Though he’d agreed to stay with her through the night as she slumbered, she’d kept waking to find him already peering down at her.

At first, she’d thought nothing of it, but as his hood had faded, and his eyes sagged with exhaustion, she’d realized he hadn’t been sleeping. Sophia had started making flimsy excuses to go on long drawn-out trips through the city with Alno so he could sneak in naps.

How she should interpret his refusal or inability to sleep, she didn’t know. It cut at her insides to think he still didn’t trust her, but she hoped that would all change in time. Maybe after their wedding. Maybe after they’d had a child.

Eventually, he’d lie with her through the night and not worry that she’d slip a knife into him or fill his eyes full of ink.

His uneasiness validated her decision not to tell him about his eyes, and luckily they hadn’t changed in front of anyone except for Khes.

The moment had been an odd one too. Khes had been replacing Sikthand’s tattoos, as he did often. Almost three quarters of them were back now. Sophia had commented on how difficult the skill was to learn, and Khes had offered to let her try on Sikthand.

Initially, she’d scoffed, but Sikthand had smiled and urged her on, curling her toes when he rumbled how much he’d love to be marked by her. She’d drawn one of the thin lines he’d had on his back, but it had come out all splotchy and wobbly.

As it turned out, Vrulan tattooing was much harder than she’d imagined. If she moved too slow, the ink following her pen tip pooled and made blotchy marks, if she moved too fast, the ink fell away from the magnetic tip and she had to go back to grab it again. The pressure of the pen was important too. She’d felt bad pressing so hard into Sikthand’s skin, but he’d barely even twitched with discomfort.

“Showing off for your future wife?” Khes had joked, scooting forward to peer in Sikthand’s eyes as he teased him. What he’d seen had made his smile fall. Luckily, she’d guessed what he’d seen and, from behind Sikthand’s back, had caught Khes’ attention and put a silencing finger to her lips.

Khes had slid his chair away before Sikthand could catch the shocked expression lingering on the inkmaster’s face. After a few moments, the line between his brows had softened, and they shared a wordless conversation in which Sophia had been somehow sure Khes understood exactly why she was keeping Sikthand’s eyes a secret and approved of her decision.

One painful, swollen beat of her heart passed as she recalled the way Sikthand gazed lovingly at her ugly squiggly line in the mirror. He hadn’t let Khes fix it, and Sophia had internally squealed. No longer was Japeshi’s name scrolled on his chest—now he had her mark on him.

And he loved her.

She still couldn’t believe it. He’d told her he loved her in such an out-of-the-blue, heartfelt, sincere way. Though she’d said it back, Sophia itched all over feeling like she hadn’t said it hard enough, hadn’t said it in five different ways so he really heard it and believed her. Maybe when she did, the damn stubborn marks on his hands would finally appear.

Lindri finished up her conversation with Magistrate Yalmi, and Sophia jumped at the opening. “Lady Lindri,” she called.

Lindri peered over to her and smiled. “Yes, Sophia?”

She leaned close and whispered, “Is everything on track for my throning dress?”

“Yes,” Lindri squeaked with a wide grin. “I’ve shown your designs to my favorite metalsmith, and he believes he can make the pieces in time. You’ll truly cause a stir, I think.”

“Good.” Sophia grinned. She’d sketched out the design after Sikthand had left and had grown more and more excited about it as she’d added bits and pieces here and there.

Her outfit for her throning needed to work double duty since her wedding was on the same day, a compromise they’d made after Sikthand had nearly imploded at the idea of two separate public events during either of which she might be killed by some unknown foe.

Though she loved Sikthand, she couldn’t quite work up any excitement for their wedding. For one thing, weddings on Clecania were not typically romantic. Normally, they were small, simple ceremonies in which both parties agreed to a temporary marriage. Though her marriage to Sikthand would be permanent, the ceremony itself was still likely to be a more cold, efficient, and formal affair than a celebration of love and commitment.

Sikthand’s initial recognition was another reason she couldn’t muster too much joy for her upcoming nuptials. If his damn marks would just appear already, a wedding would be unnecessary. Matehood superseded marriage. Matehood superseded everything. It was beyond sacred. Knowing what she did about Sikthand’s eyes, marrying him felt oddly…deceitful.

Sophia sat back in her chair, the one Sikthand normally sat in. But the wedding would make her alien king happy, so she’d put on a smile—and a devastating lingerie set—and go through the motions for him.

A projected figure emerged in the center of the room, and Sophia sucked in a noisy sound of disgust. It was…gloopy. Its shape was something between an octopus and a rhinoceros, and it had sticky gobs of what looked like snot dripping off it onto the ground. It didn’t leave a mess, though, as its suctioning feet began to move, slurping up the goop. Sophia jumped when the repulsive noise of the slurping translated in her ear.

That’s how it talks?

She tamped down her queasiness and tried to listen to what the creature was saying. If her prepping had been right, this was Irgh, the Intergalactic Alliance representative from the planet Gninzol who was acting as an impartial moderator for the vote.

How did this being belong to a Class One species? It was incredibly impolite of her to even think it based solely on its appearance, but damn. Irgh was like an animated booger, yet their kind was light-years more evolved than humans and Clecanians combined.

Sophia’s lips curled down as sloppy gurgling echoed beneath the translation chiming through her ear. Irgh outlined the events of the past two days for the audiences who might have never witnessed an Alliance vote before.

The first day had been spent introducing each candidate and letting them convince the leaders why they should receive their vote. Sophia wished that part had been broadcast, but the Leaders’ Summit was incredibly private. Only those in attendance knew the extent of what was said.

The next time one was scheduled, Sophia would be attending, she realized with mild surprise. She kept forgetting that in a week’s time, she would be a queen. A fucking queen! It still left her a bit dizzy when that reality slipped in.

Goodbye to LARP, hello to…LAR?

Irgh described how on the second day, the leaders of the planet—barring any who were also running as candidates, such as Vila—had met and discussed the candidates. Sophia could only hope that the hours of prepping she’d done with Sikthand had paid off and he’d convince enough other leaders that Asivva was the right choice.

A twinge of fear flickered in her heart, but she ignored it. Sikthand would vote for who she’d selected. He wouldn’t change his mind at the last minute and betray her trust. The fear was just an intrusive worry. She could count on Sikthand.

Sophia sat forward in her seat as Irgh announced that the votes were being tallied now. A screen popped up with an enormous list of names. Numbers began appearing next to their names, showing how many votes they’d received so far. Names rose and dropped quickly, reordering themselves based on who was winning.

She still wasn’t proficient enough to decipher the names before they moved on her, but she could read the name at the top since it hadn’t moved.

Her fingers curled around the arms of her chair. Vila.

Votes continued to come in, and a second familiar name appeared under Vila’s name. Sophia sucked in a shaky breath. Asivva was gaining.

Squinting at the constantly changing tallies next to their names, she tried to understand how far apart they were. She didn’t know for sure, but she thought it was close.

Sikthand had done it. He’d argued in Asivva’s favor well enough that she might win.

Sophia scooted to the edge of her seat as the votes started to slow. The names no longer shifted, and the only votes coming in were between Vila and Asivva.

The room fell into a breathless silence as Asivva’s named jumped ahead. Sophia clutched a hand to her mouth.

The numbers next to their name flicked to the same number.

Tied.

Her body stiffened.

Sophia blinked when Vila’s name flashed back to the top of the list, and the numbers remained unchanged. She waited, and waited, but nothing changed. Her heart sank.

Vila had won.

Sophia’s head drooped in time with her pitching stomach. Sounds of upset echoed through the room, mirroring her own dread.

She lifted her chin as Irgh explained the tally was being confirmed at that moment. Time to be queenly. “It’s okay,” Sophia reassured the Guild. “We knew this was the most likely outcome. That vote was so, so close. That means there are a ton of cities that just pissed Vila off. Those are our allies. If she gets out of hand—”

A thundering bang echoed through the room, and everyone shot to their feet. Sophia’s ears buzzed, the blood rushing in her veins cooled to ice as she spotted the bowed center of the heavy metal door. It looked like it had just been hit with a battering ram.

Guards crowded in front of her and the Guild as something enormous slammed into the door again. It flew open, still on its hinges, then rebounded off the wall and swung closed.

In that moment, her fear morphed into confusion. In the split-second view, a familiar red, horned giant had appeared. “Rhaego?” Sophia called.

The Guild all looked to her.

“You know—”

Bavo’s words were cut short when a smoking canister slipped through a mangled crack in the door. The room began to quickly fill with gas. The guards near the door heaved at it, trying to drag it open, but Sophia knew that if Rhaego was holding it closed, there was not a chance in hell they’d get it to budge.

Sophia stumbled into her seat as a wave of dizziness hit. Her lids drooped.

No. Panic seized her chest. It was sleeping spray. She stumbled forward onto her knees and started to crawl toward the door as she fought to stay conscious.

One by one, guildmembers and soldiers crumpled around her.

Sophia gave her face a hard slap and continued dragging herself to the door. “Rhaego! Open…the…” Sophia’s cheek hit the ground, and her words slurred out of her. “Door.”

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