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Ruling Sikthand: Chapter 6

Sikthand allowed Ahea to fall slightly longer than he normally would before guiding her wings to spread. An unbidden purr had risen in his chest when the human pressed herself into him, gripping his arms with all her might. He’d been forced to concoct some distraction so she wouldn’t notice his reaction.

Vrulan females weren’t typically this panicky, or if they were, their pride kept it hidden. They’d sooner dive out of a tower window than cling to a male like this. He didn’t know why the action sent electricity to his groin, only that it did. Perhaps it was a remnant of the heat that had coursed through him last night.

He hadn’t meant to look at her body. He’d returned to his room after watching her crawl into bed. Unable to sleep, he lay there, his mind churning over whether she’d decide to do something stupid like sneak out of her room. Finally, he’d dragged himself out of bed. Just to make sure she was still there. But when he’d arrived at the mirror, she was gone.

He’d been a breath away from storming out, calling for guards, and tearing apart every inch of Vrulatica to find her, but then she’d emerged from the bathroom glistening and naked. Sikthand would like to think that if he hadn’t been taken by surprise, he could’ve looked away. He wasn’t some wretch who used the many passages throughout Vrulatica to spy on unsuspecting females at their most vulnerable.

But he’d been frozen.

A beam of silver moonlight had lit her curves, particles of glittering dust dancing around her, and the world had slowed.

Sikthand hadn’t watched her. Suspended in time, he’d beheld her. A goddess carved from the moon itself.

Even if she left tomorrow and he never saw her face again, that vision of her would live with him until the day he joined the sky.

Then her eyes had connected with his, nearly leveling him. When he’d finally remembered where he was—and that she was not looking at him but at her own reflection in the mirror—his chest had constricted.

It’d ripped him out of his stupor, and he’d forced himself to take a step back. His body had rebelled, but he’d known if he could make himself move away one step, then two, he’d also be capable of tearing his gaze from her.

But then she’d swept her long hair, black as the night sky, over her shoulder, presenting him with her back. As if the gods themselves were testing him, he’d managed to keep the rising growl from escaping his throat.

It was as though someone had taken a hammer to her spine. Ugly bruises marred her perfect body. They were everywhere. Her arms. Her wrists. Her shoulder. Sikthand had been wounded many times over his long life. He knew what injuries like hers must feel like. Bad enough that the pain lived close, stayed in your mind at all hours of the day, but not bad enough to kill you.

Why hadn’t she said anything? His anger had flared, his tail scraping loudly, and he’d fled down the passageway before she could hear him.

Now, as she held on to him for dear life, he found himself not thinking her weak, but reasonable. Humans were impossible creatures. So fucking beautiful, yet so easy to break. When he’d sliced that rope she’d been climbing, causing her to fall, he’d known it would leave a bruise, but he’d never imagined it would be that bad.

This distracting human needed to stay breathing until the new leader of Tremanta came to power and he could off-load her on them. Until then, he’d need to watch her to make sure she didn’t kill herself while doing something innocuous, like tripping down the stairs.

Sikthand breathed in the bright air and tried to ignore the way her slender frame fit within his arms. Would her small nails also dig into his biceps if he buried himself in her pretty body?

He dashed the thought from his mind.

Ahea caught a smooth air current, pulling them into a gentle glide, and Sophia finally pulled her face away from his chest. Her knuckles grew white as she gazed at the sky around her. It was a clear day. The sun beat down on them, but the wind carried away its heat.

She peered back at him, her lips almost curling into a smile. In her eyes, he could see how badly she wanted to trust him. How badly she wanted to be able to enjoy flying without fearing he’d let her fall. His tail tightened around his saddle’s aft-grip.

As if he’d let her fall.

Transferring the reins into one hand, he dragged his other arm out of her iron grip. She scratched at his wrist, a bitter spike of fear permeating the fresh air, but settled when he slipped his forearm around her waist, cementing her against his front.

Her head dipped in the direction of his hold. Would she ask him to remove his arm? After a moment, her shaking fingers inched upward. Her whole body vibrated with fear, but she lifted her hand into the air, trying to hold it steady against the wind. When she reached as high as her arm would allow, she spread her fingers and beamed.

Ahea could have flown faster, but Sikthand found himself taking his time. She dipped out of a wind current a little too quickly, making them drop a few feet before gliding smoothly again. Sophia shrieked at the drop, then burst out with adrenaline-spiked laughter. The sound was so joyful, so free. He found himself surreptitiously guiding his mount out of air currents less smoothly than he might have otherwise. It felt like no time at all had gone by when the infirmary came into view.

They landed with a slight lurch, Ahea’s talons scraping over the rusty sandstone ground. Sikthand dismounted first, then grabbed Sophia, careful to lift her so as not to cause her pain.

She vibrated in his grasp. Windswept locks of hair frizzed around her temples, and a wide grin transformed her features.

With a shaking hand, she gently patted Ahea’s flank. “Thank you for the flight. You were wonderful.” A smile pulled at Sikthand’s lips, but he held it back as she faced him again.

Her skin was red, chapped from the wind and sun. His joy faded. Damn her delicate human body.

“I have everything ready, sire.” The head medic, Vezel, hurried out from a set of stairs that dipped underground where the majority of the infirmary was located.

The grin melted from Sophia’s face, and a sour note of fear tinged the hot air. He’d smelled it before—every time he’d come near her, in fact—but he had the distinct impression he hadn’t caused it this time.

A sinking dread suffused Sikthand as Sophia looked to him as if for comfort, and his chest warmed.

No. Not again.

He couldn’t afford for this ember of curious affection to burn any brighter.

To care is to suffer.

This lesson had broken him many times over, and he refused to let it happen again. Hardening himself, he frowned. “My time is not infinite, human.”

Her gaze dropped to the ground, but he refused to speculate as to why. Whether she was embarrassed or hurt or merely had a bit of sand in her eye, his tone had worked as he’d wanted. The trust from a few moments ago was gone, and when she met his eyes again, her expression was guarded. She nodded solemnly, then walked toward the building.

An emotion—not grief exactly, but something related—made his jaw clench. He followed her into the infirmary.

The scent of her fear intensified the farther into the cool building they ventured. Vezel’s nose curled. The medic glanced back to Sikthand, brows raised in a silent question. He shook his head. Sikthand had no idea what was making her so terrified, and he didn’t care.

“Don’t like flying?” Vezel tried, speaking to Sophia with a practiced smile in place on his pale silver face.

“Don’t like doctors,” she replied stiffly. “No offense.” She aimed an awkward smile toward Vezel as they reached an exam room. She pointed into the dimly lit room, gaze resolutely remaining forward. “And I especially don’t like that.” Vezel and Sikthand followed the line of her finger. She was pointing at a medical tube, the device used across the planet to keep the dwindling Clecanian species alive and healthy.

That machine was the reason the infirmary and the rest of the many outbuildings had to be built so far away from Vrulatica. The magnetic charge of the ore Vrulatica had been built upon made using any electronics within city limits both dangerous and pointless.

Though confusion was clear in Vezel’s bronze eyes, he didn’t question her. “You may not need that level of healing,” he assured instead.

Sophia’s guilty gaze slipped to Sikthand. “I think I will,” she muttered.

“How about we take a look?”

Eyes wide, lips thinned into nothing, she shuffled into the exam room behind the medic. Almost at once, the air clouded with her pungent fear.

His duty ended at keeping her alive and healthy. There was nothing to fear here. She was safe whether or not she believed it.

She’s not for me to concern myself with.

“I’d like to be seen to first, Vezel.” The words poured out of him without his permission. Fuck.

Sikthand didn’t bother hiding his scowl as he stepped into the exam room. When the human released a relieved exhale, his irritation doubled.


The tips of her fingers were numb, every centimeter of skin tingling. Though the entitled behavior of the king should make her want to roll her eyes, she didn’t mind his demand to be seen first. She was grateful for it.

“I’ll just wait out here.” Freedom was only a few steps away.

Before she could move, the king activated the door, shutting her in with both men and the tube from hell. The king pushed past her, ignoring her longing gaze fixed on the smooth metal door.

“I’ll need some time in the tube,” he commented mildly.

With a sigh, she lifted her chin. Might as well warm up to seeing the healing tube in action.

The king’s glowing eyes were already locked on hers as she forced herself to face the room. A slice of his muscular torso flashed into view when the king pulled his shirt free from his pants, and Sophia swallowed.

Awkwardly, she cleared her throat and slipped her gaze to the ceiling. “Oh, sorry.”

“Calm, female. It’s only flesh,” was his growled response.

She did roll her eyes at that. Luckily, they were still pointed toward the ceiling, so she doubted anyone noticed. It was like every little thing she did irritated him.

Have a fun time flying on the malginash? Childish. Hesitate to follow an alien doctor underground? Ridiculous. Try to give him some privacy while he undresses? Prudish. If she bothered him so much, why not just let her wait outside?

The doctor’s gaze bounced between them, also seeming confused as to why she was there.

Wait. Was he… Sophia shook off the thought before it fully formed. No, he couldn’t be forcing her to watch him get healed to ease her fears. That was preposterous.

And yet…

The memory of the strong band of his arm locking her in place as they flew popped into her head. At the time, she’d just assumed it was a precaution to keep her from falling, but… Had he done it to make her feel less frightened?

He pulled his shirt over his head, and she shuddered. An enormous, sickening bruise marred his right side. He kept his right arm lifted at shoulder height, allowing Vezel close. “Bruzuk landed a couple good hits a few days ago,” he rumbled by way of explanation.

A few days ago? Why hadn’t he come earlier? Sophia looked on in horror.

“Yes, he came to see us that day.” The doctor glanced up at the king nervously for a split second. “Seems you got some good hits in yourself. Perhaps a few too many.”

Sikthand lowered his arm, his expression shuttering. “He celebrated too long. Finally got one good kick in and dropped his guard. Better he learns to keep vigilant from me than end up dead while fighting a feral Tagion.” His glowing gaze cut to Sophia. “The lesson only sticks if it hurts.”

“Indeed.” The doctor’s lips thinned disapprovingly.

Sophia couldn’t fault his logic, but a tendril of unease slipped down her spine hearing how interchangeable lesson and beating seemed to be to the king. She had to remember that even among Clecanian standards, Vrulatica was a harsh city.

She supposed having a healing machine that could fix a broken arm in a matter of minutes would make training warriors a more brutal endeavor. Why describe a consequence when you could experience it and be back in fighting shape the next day? That must be why the king didn’t so much as wince when the doctor prodded his purple ribs. At what point did one grow that used to pain?

The glass dome of the healing tube slid open, and Sophia stumbled back a step. She tried to play it off as though she was finding a more comfortable spot to lean against the wall, but judging from the scrutinizing furrows of their brows, she’d fooled no one.

They can smell the fear, idiot. The back of her neck flamed in embarrassment.

She held her breath as Sikthand climbed into the healing tube and settled. His body was a work of art, literally. If she had to guess, she’d say the black geometric designs covering him were not birthmarks, as some other Clecanian races had, but tattoos drawn using the unique magnetic ink native to Vrulatica.

Thick bands, narrow stripes, and solidly inked sections of muscle covered his torso. It reminded her of some blackwork tattoos she’d seen back home, except more dramatic. The precision of every line, the level of saturation, and the severe contrast to his ghostly white skin created a striking image.

The fact that the tattoos covered a powerful body, heavy with muscle, made them that much more appealing. The symmetry was excellent as well. Either the artist who’d drawn them was incredibly talented, or the king had the proportional perfection of the Vitruvian man.

A scroll of Clecanian writing running down his left pec disrupted the symmetry, and she frowned at it.

Inching closer and squinting, she tried to read the word. She could make out a few letters, but she’d never been good with vowels. The first two symbols might sound like Ja, though she didn’t trust her memory enough to be sure. She tried to burn the writing into her mind so she could look it up later.

The machine whirred to life. Her pulse spiked, but as she tried to temper her fear, she realized she’d ventured within a few feet of the healing tube and, up until a second ago, hadn’t noticed its proximity. Forcing her feet to remain planted, she scrutinized the tube suspiciously, tensing as millions of minuscule beams of light scanned his body.

“It looks like a cracked rib,” the doctor explained while peering into a screen with scrolling script. “Do I have your permission to mend the rib and the bruising?”

She breathed out a sigh of relief at hearing this.

“Fix the rib, not the bruising. I don’t have time to rework my design.”

“What does that mean?” Sophia whispered to the doctor.

“The machine wants to fix all damaged layers, and it registers the ink as an intrusion. He’d rather keep his design intact and live with the bruise.” At his words, the nausea churning in her gut settled.

This conversation felt unremarkable. A discussion that patients and doctors had every day. There was no way for either man to know how much this was helping her. By the time it was Sophia’s turn to get examined, the terror making her worry she’d either vomit on herself or faint had dulled to a simmering dread and become something manageable.

Without a word, the king pulled on his shirt, eyed her for a moment, then exited the exam room. She wished he hadn’t, even if that meant he’d witness her get undressed and see the severity of the injury she’d been trying to hide.

Her knees wobbled and her heart beat in her throat when she crawled into the tube, but she was able to grind her teeth and breathe deeply through the worst of her panic. The doctor winced while explaining her tailbone had been bruised.

It took a few tries to force her consent to heal past her teeth. Apart from fixing her tailbone, they only needed to mend some scrapes. Before she knew it, she was out and feeling like a new woman.

She hadn’t quite realized how furtively she’d been moving until she could walk without tension. Her spine was a bit straighter too. Not only because the machine had helped align it, but from pride.

She smiled to herself as she thanked the doctor and made her way outside into the desert heat. I did it.

And whether he’d done so purposefully or not, the king had helped her. She wondered at his motives once more, but couldn’t make up her mind. Was he observant and kind? Cold and duty-bound?

Sikthand stood outside near his mount. He ran his elegant fingers down the malginash’s forehead and used his tail to scratch behind the creature’s ear. The monster’s eyes drooped, and warmth bloomed in Sophia’s chest.

He was confounding, this alien king.


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