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Ruling Sikthand: Chapter 42

Okay, almost there. I’m just going to explain myself, and we’ll have a good laugh about it. Sophia gnawed on the quick of her nails, her knee bouncing uncontrollably.

Every second was moving far slower than it should’ve. How many eternities had passed in the time it had taken them to hike to a secure location, find a cruiser, go to a busy city, find another cruiser that Maxu had insisted on hacking into to further hide their whereabouts, go to another city, then load Sophia into a final cruiser that would take her to Vrulatica.

She’d now been gone for four damn days.

When she’d said goodbye, she’d been mildly apologetic, and she’d parted with her friends on good terms. She’d told Meg that while she appreciated the thought of her rescue attempt, next time she’d prefer a letter. Meg had promised to send one as soon as Maxu gave her the go-ahead.

It had helped their moods immensely when Sophia explained the ways in which she planned to make Vrulatica a haven for humans. All the safe houses Rhaego was establishing were just dandy, but if they didn’t work out, she’d make sure Vrulatica could protect them.

She stared at the small dot on the cruiser screen. It pulled closer and closer to the Vrulan outbuildings. Once there, she was sure she could get someone to fly her to the tower.

Sophia was too eager when the cruiser stopped, and she ended up tripping and tumbling out of the transport as she climbed over its slowly lowering door. She dragged herself up through the sand, and tripped into the first building she saw—the infirmary.

A wide-eyed male leapt away from her with a cry when she crashed into him headlong.

“I need a ride to the royal wing.”

“Wh-W…” He peered down at her dirty, sweat-stained clothes and sniffed. “My lady, are you—”

“I need a malginash. Call someone to fly me!”

With a look of horror, the man sprinted away. A door down the hall opened, and a familiar, though bewildered, face popped out.

“Vezel!” she screeched, sprinting over to him.

“Sophia.” His eyes widened, and he took in her bedraggled appearance. “We all thought you’d left.”

“Shit,” she wheezed while clutching a stitch in her side. Three days asleep had made even that short run exhausting. “Does he think I left willingly?”

Vezel’s jaw softened. “You didn’t?”

“No! Does he think I did?” Tears threatened to fall. Only the panic to get back to Sikthand kept them at bay.

“I believe so. We’re nearly at war with Roborh. He’s demanding King Cueyar return you, though the king continues to claim you aren’t with him. Were you?”

“King…” Sophia froze, vision going out of focus as she thought. Sikthand must have read Heleax’s letter and assumed she’d run away to Roborh. Sophia winced, squinting her eyes shut and letting her head fall back. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

She knew she shouldn’t have kept that letter. She should have thrown it out as soon as she’d sent her response turning down the king, but it had brought her a weirdly powerful sense of comfort. Written messages weren’t common on Clecania. Everything was sent electronically. The sight of handwritten English after months of torturing herself learning Clecanian had made her heart swell, and it had somehow made her feel closer to Earth to see it. It could have been a grocery list and she would have felt the same. Had her fucking nostalgia started a war?

“I have to get up there,” she begged, desperately.

Vezel nodded. “Proit,” he called down the hall.

The timid male from before popped his head out of a doorway. “I’ll be back soon—look after Rider Huth until I return.”

Vezel stomped ahead, and Sophia followed in a trot. “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.”

Outside, around the back of the outbuilding was a sleeping malginash. Vezel let out a short whistle, and its cloudy eyes popped open. Sophia waited to approach so as not to frighten it, then clambered onto the saddle. Vezel hopped on behind, and they were off.

“Can you get into the royal landing bay? I don’t want to cause a scene. I need to see him alone first,” Sophia yelled over the howling wind.

Vezel pulled the reins, guiding his malginash to soar higher toward the royal landing bay. “Are you sure that’s wise? The king has been…distraught.”

Sophia nearly choked on the boulder lodged in her throat. She silently nodded.

When they reached the bay, Sophia slid off the malginash. “Don’t tell anyone I’m here yet. I need some time to calm him down first before the whole Guild shows up with questions.”

Vezel nodded, then took off into the sky.

Anxiety keeping her heart hammering in her chest, she raced to Sikthand’s room first, testing the handle before banging loudly on the door.

“Hey—who gave you permission…” Alno came running around the corner, but his voice died when he saw her. He put his hands on his hips and tilted his head, expression livid. “Where the fuck have you been?”

“Where is he?” she breathed.

Alno’s gaze flitted over her disgusting clothes. A line formed between his brows. “I don’t know. I’d guess the Choke.”

She lifted off the door. “The Choke. Why?”

“Because there’s a hoard of invaders right now, and he’s burying his pain by ripping Tagion warriors apart. The amount of dried Tagion blood I’ve had to clean up…” he complained, almost to himself.

Sophia swallowed. Her poor mate. All she wanted was to drop to her knees and convince him she hadn’t meant to leave. “When will he be back?”

“No idea. He doesn’t speak to anyone apart from Khes except to bark commands. Do you know how many Vrulans are locked in the dungeons right now just because they might know someone who knows someone who knows where you went?”

Something in Sophia finally broke. A deep, painful sob wrenched out of her chest. She buried her face in her hands and wailed miserably.

Alno let out a long breath and wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “Okay. Okay. You’ll be alright. Come on. Let’s get you fixed up.”

Still sobbing into her hands, she let him lead her down the hall to her room. She peered around the space, expecting it to be torn apart. It somehow hurt worse that it wasn’t. Everything was exactly how she’d left it.

In a daze, she let Alno guide her about. She jumped at every little noise, even going so far as to stumble out of her bath when a crash sounded from her bedroom. Throwing a towel around her body, she’d stumbled into her bedroom only to find Alno had merely dropped a tray of food.

“Nothing yet,” he said sadly.

Hours passed and still no sign of Sikthand. Eventually, she sent Alno off, though he initially refused, arguing that he’d never forgive himself if the king accidentally killed her in a rage upon returning.

When Sophia had quietly explained that she didn’t believe it was possible for Sikthand to harm her considering he was her mate, Alno had crashed back into a chair, shocked.

After he finally left, she snuck to her mirror and activated the switch that would make it swing open. Her heart quivered like a scared rabbit as the secret passage was revealed but grew cold when she didn’t find him hiding there.

Bottles littered the ground around his chair. A deep gash in the stone floor confused her for a moment until she realized it must be the path the point of his swiping tail had carved. She made her way to Sikthand’s mirror and let out a miserable sigh at the sight.

He hadn’t touched a thing in her room, but the same couldn’t be said for his. The mirror was shattered and lay in pieces on the ground. The bedding was shredded. Weapons of all kinds were embedded in the walls, and his study looked like someone had set off a bomb.

Tears falling fast, she crawled into what remained of his bed. She closed her eyes and listened intently for any sound—the click of Ahea’s claws on the stone landing bay far above, the clink of Sikthand’s boots in the hall.

She held his bedding close to her nose in balled fists, the scent of him clinging to the fabric.

While trying to convince herself over and over that he’d come back, hear her out, and forgive her, the calming scent of him lulled her into sleep.


A loud roar had her shooting awake and scrambling out of bed. She turned in place, expecting to see Sikthand in the room ready to rage at her, but he was nowhere. The sky outside was black, and lightning cracked across his windows.

Shit. It had been midafternoon when she’d come in here. How long had she been asleep?

More yelling echoed from the passageway leading to her room, and she silently followed it. Sophia kept her steps quiet as arguing voices grew clearer.

She choked back a pained sob when she heard him. Furious and deep, Sikthand’s voice carried to her.

“Get out! If you won’t do it, then leave.”

Sophia stepped around the bottles and peered through her mirror. Khes was there, standing in the center of her room, but she couldn’t see Sikthand.

Khes clutched his tattoo bag and looked toward her open bedroom door with such a worried expression. She’d never seen anything close to the look on the inkmaster’s face before, and it tore at her insides to imagine what was bad enough to put it there.

“Out! You’re of no use.” Sophia tipped her head forward, but it sounded as if Sikthand was standing in the hall, waiting for Khes to leave. Her knees wobbled at the wrath in the king’s voice.

At last, Khes trudged out of the room.

Suddenly not brave enough to face her mate, she lowered into the chair. She needed to see him first. The bedroom door slammed shut, and Sikthand pounded into the room.

One hand lifting to her mouth, the other to her heart, she took in the sight before her. He was gazing down at her sketchbook, a wretchedly hopeless look pulling his features tight.

Except for a snug pair of shorts, he was nearly naked. Sophia’s eyes scanned his body. He’d covered himself with tattoos, more than she’d ever seen on him before.

But they were different.

Sophia clutched at her throat, tears streaming down her cheeks as she studied the tattoos traveling from his chin all the way down to the tip of his tail.

They were hers.

She had no idea how he’d withstood it, but he’d changed every one of his tattoos and added tons more, and they were all things she’d drawn.

Every tattoo she’d ever designed—along with sketches, notes, abstract scribbles. They covered every inch of his skin. The only piece that had remained unchanged since the last time she’d seen him, was the wobbly line she’d drawn on his back.

Sikthand dropped the book on the ground and sank into a chair, his head dropping into his hands. A deep, anguished moan ripped out of his chest, and she stood. Her hands shook as she reached for the latch and silently opened the mirror.

The crash of his chair hitting the ground rang through her ears. By the time she’d stepped through the mirror, Sikthand was on his feet, blood-crusted blade held behind his shoulder as if he were about to hurl it at her.

She took a step toward him, then stilled. The ramming of her heart pulsed all the way down to her toes.

His eyes were wide and unblinking, his axe clutched in his hand. He stared at her as if unsure whether she was real.

“Sikthand,” she said, starting to walk toward him again.

His chest heaved in a colossal breath, and he blinked.

She took a few more steps.

The axe clattered to the ground behind him, and he sank down to his knees, staring up at her as she stopped just before him.

There were so many things she wanted to say, but she couldn’t get her throat to work. “I—”

His tail slammed behind her thighs, and he hauled her against him. His shaking arms and tail squeezed her lower body tight to his torso. His face nuzzled against her belly, sniffing and sucking down deep breaths.

“She’s real. She’s back. She’s here.” His arms tightened painfully, and he muttered words to himself as if to reassure his own shaky mind.

Sophia wanted to get to the ground and pull him in, but she didn’t think it was wise to try to wriggle out of his iron hold at the moment. She hugged his head to her belly instead, running her fingers through his hair.

Without warning, a growl built in his throat, and his fangs sank into the soft flesh of her hip, spearing right through her clothing. She held in her squeal of pain when she heard the groaning sound of relief rising from his chest and felt the shuddering in his arms subside.

He released a moan and lifted his mouth, pulling back just enough to see the blood blooming over the fabric at her hip. Sophia took the opportunity to slide through his arms until she slammed to her knees in front of him.

She had to rub her lips together to keep her sob in when she saw his eyes were utterly black. His expression was so torn. He looked at her like he hated her but would die if she pulled away. His gaze ran over her face, his brows drawing together in pain. “You left me.”

“No. No.” She shook her head, tears streaming down her cheeks. “I didn’t want to go. They took me. I never want to leave you. Ever. As soon as I woke up, I ran back as fast as I could.” She was pressed tight to his chest, and she had to crane her neck back so she could talk to him.

“You didn’t leave?” Hope lit up his face, he smiled and sucked in a joyous breath. His nostrils flared, and he shook his head, peering around for a moment as though something unseen had brushed past him.

He eyed her again, and his brows furrowed. “But the king—”

Her head thrashed back and forth. “I turned the king down weeks ago. I only kept the letter because it was written by a human in English, and it reminded me of home…Earth. It reminded me of Earth. Meg took me. She left me behind when they escaped, and she thought she was rescuing me. She was wrong.”

“That vermin! Maxu! This was his doing?” Sikthand’s features darkened with rage.

She clasped his face in her hands. “Hey, listen to me. It was nothing but a mistake. I’m back. I will always come back.”

His gaze was still so tragic, like he wanted to believe her but couldn’t.

“I love you,” she croaked. “So, so, so much. I would never leave you. Please believe me.” She pressed kisses against his mouth though he didn’t respond. “I was so furious when I woke up. All I wanted was to get back here.”

“You didn’t choose to leave me?” he repeated. She watched his thumb brush over her shirt collar. He pulled it back so he could check for the tattoo of his bite.

“No.” Sophia eyed his hand and swallowed, trying to decide what to say. “Sikthand, I will never leave you.” His thumb brushed over the tattoo on her neck. She licked her lips. “You’re my mate,” she whispered.

His body stilled. She stopped breathing, waiting for his reaction.

“Don’t say such things,” he growled low.

Gathering her courage, she shifted her head to the side so the mirror at her back was visible. Sikthand did a double take at his reflection, seeing his black eyes. “I…” He shook his head.

“Don’t you feel it?” she urged. “I feel it. Sometimes I think I’m going to die if I don’t see you, touch you.”

“How are you doing this?” He blinked at his reflection.

She shuddered out a breath, pressing her lips together. Hugging him close around the neck, she brushed a kiss against his ear and whispered, “Look at your hands.”

She felt his arm shift behind her back and lift. A tremulous smile spread over her lips. She didn’t know exactly when, but his marks had appeared. She’d seen them when he’d pulled her collar aside. They clashed with the tattooed designs he’d taken from her book, overwhelming them.

He jostled her in his arms when his other hand flew up to meet the first. She looked over her shoulder as he turned his palms back to front, staring at the black marks, the same color as his hood.

Suddenly, his palms zoomed to clutch her face. Smooshing her cheeks in his firm hold, he forced her gaze to meet his. “You’re my mate?” he asked, still not believing his eyes.

“Yes.” She tried to smile, though the heels of his palms clenching her face made it difficult.

“You didn’t leave me?”

Her body wiggled more than her face when she tried to shake her head. “No—never.”

“We’re mated.” The words were no longer a question. “You’re my mate.” A glorious, wide, beaming smile broke over his face as his eyes flicked over her.

“I’m your mate,” she agreed, grinning through a happy sob.

He kissed her squished lips. “You’re my mate.” He repeated the statement over and over while pressing toothy kisses to her lips.

Finally, he loosened his hands enough for her to throw her arms around his neck again and kiss him properly. It was sloppy from her tears, and her blood still on his mouth, but his grinning lips against hers nearly made her heart burst.


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