Tick. Tick. Tick.
I hate that sound. It’s a constant reminder of my failure, as if the stares aren’t enough.
“Winds, Rider Queen,” the servant greeted. There was a hesitation in his voice, and his grey skin paled. He didn’t know if he should use my title, because it didn’t belong to me anymore.
“Winds,” I returned.
“Do you need assistance?”
“No. Thank you.” I stared at the few steps in front of me that led into the fort. Then, I looked at my walking cane. I struggled a bit, but I made it over the steps. I always did.
“The rest of the Rider Kings are this way,” the servant said. “They met on the first floor, to…” His eyes flickered, drawing something in the air.
To make it easier for a cripple like you.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
I entered the meeting room, and four pairs of eyes flickered to mine. Two of the gazes were paired with fleeting smiles.
“Rider Queen. Please join us,” King Centres offered. His smile was firm, clear, genuine.
I tried to sit as smoothly as possible, but I couldn’t hide the awkward tip of my hip as my defeat rippled. Everyone stared, so I lifted my head high.
I am a cripple, a woman, an alien human with brown skin unlike their grey one, but I am not less.
“We should address your condition first,” Centres said.
Rider King Rexon leaned forward, his long hair unable to hide the satisfied glint in his eyes. Rider King Zoro sat straighter. They were ready to celebrate my downfall.
I felt a fourth pair of eyes on me. Those eyes contained tornadoes; too turbulent and messy for me to make sense of them. The last Rider King, Dramon, never made much sense to me. Did he hate me like the others? It has been five years, and I have yet to find out.
One thing was certain, though. Whatever he felt for me was passionate, because he wasn’t shy about staring.
“Because of your inability to ride, I will have to strip you from your title. I thank you for your service,” Centres said.
I ripped my eyes away from Dramon and clutched my cane tighter. As I had practiced, I replied, “It was an honor to ride for you, King Centres. I pray to the fires that my replacement will be fitting.”
The words were monotone, and my expression blank. They were an armor that protected the despair I was truly feeling inside.
“Be careful on your way out,” Zoro taunted. “We would not want you to hurt yourself.” The leather vest he wore creaked as he crossed his meaty arms over his chest.
The King cleared his throat. “I am not done yet. I have another mission for you, Venus.”
Venus. Not Rider Queen. I have officially lost that title. Now, I am just Venus.
I stared at my King, awaiting his command.
“You are to wed.”
My armor chipped, and I whispered the word “what?”
The sound was dangerously delicate. It wasn’t normal of me. I always spoke up to remind the males in this room that my opinion mattered as much as theirs.
The king wants to marry me off? Did he think that now that I can’t ride, my only value is in fucking?
With my chest aching, I spat, “I cannot.”
“You will. Do not forget who allowed you to compete to earn your Rider Queen position. You are indebted to me.”
“I rode for you for five years, King. Has it not been enough? I have nothing more to give.”
I stood up, desperate to escape before I betray myself. In my blind momentum, my cane twisted. I choked and tensed my body to prepare for the ground.
Leather, fur, silver, and male became my world as they enveloped me.
I looked up and found Dramon.
We had never touched before. This was… a tornado.
“Dramon,” the King said. “You will wed Dramon.”
“No,” I blurted. I gripped the Rider King’s burnt bicep. I noticed that I couldn’t single-handedly grasp it, because this male’s body was as powerful as his gaze.
“What do you speak of?” Dramon asked our King.
I took his distraction as my chance to grip my cane and stabilize myself.
I stepped away and glanced at the other Rider Kings. They were angry, because although they didn’t want me seated at the King’s table, they wanted me on their lap.
“You want her,” Centres accused. “You have not been subtle in the way you stare at her.”
“Every cursed Rider King wants her!” Dramon growled.
“They want her because they think she is weak. You want her because you think she is strong. I will hear no more of this. The marriage will happen.”
I didn’t want to hear any more of this, either. As I walked away, the damned tick, tick, tick, sounded louder than ever.
I exited the fort. The stares and whispered picked up again.
‘There she is. The human that dared to become a Rider Queen, only to fall.’
I went for my wagon, wanting to escape the city. A familiar grunt came from my left.
“Treysa,” I wanted to cry. “Stop following me. I can’t ride you anymore.” I pressed my hand against her scaly snout. “I freed you. Go live your life. Find a new master.”
She sniffed my cane. The supporting piece that chained me down.
“I can’t ride you, sweet girl. You need to move on.” I pushed at her snout, my heart in tatters. She must have wandered all day, risking captivity to find me. I’ll need to make sure she gets out to the wild safely and loses my scent for good.
A gush of wind made me turn around. It was Dramon. He was atop his mount, but his eyes were on me. He muttered something to his mount, and soared high into the sky.
At least one beast left.
What has happened:
A mysterious event called The Vanishing erased most women from the Universe. No one knows who or what caused it. Planet Earth has been wiped clean of women, but 10 humans were transported off the planet before The Vanishing struck it. The 10 humans landed in Xelor. Venus is one of their descendants.