Birthright

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The apprentice wished his meal dagger were a more formidable weapon. From this distance, he could've easily planted a throwing knife into King Alaric's chest from across the table, unseating him from his stolen throne.

King.

The word burrowed into the apprentice's mind with the ferocity of frothing acid. The man—if one could call a half-blooded dragon spawn such—wasn't worthy of the golden thread in his clothes. Even his late father, Vulcan, hadn't acknowledged Alaric as heir to the throne. Unfortunately, King Vulcan's disapproval had done nothing to change ancient Torvan laws.

Alaric cleared his throat and stood, holding his green dragon-like wings on either side as if they were a source of pride rather than aberrations. "Nobles of the Council, today a half-human, half-Torvan queen has been selected." His voice echoed throughout the enormous Council Room.

A few had to stifle their gasps. Those in attendance had obviously assumed that the rumor of Alaric taking a Hybrid bride was just that. Though both Torvans and humans were similar in structure, humans were shorter in height, thicker around the middle, possessed weak hearing and eyesight, and rarely lived past a century. Overall, they were regarded as homelier, intellectually inferior, and completely undesirable.

"Her name is Kimberly," Alaric continued. "Both she and her father have given their consent for her to be wed. Both are aware of Torva's existence. The Queen's mother was Torvan, and though her father is human, he understands the necessity of secrecy."

The apprentice pursed his lips, lest he succumb to the smile tempting his mouth. Judging from the announcement, Alaric still remained ignorant as to what was really happening.

"I want to assure you Torva will remain safe, unknown to humans of malicious intent. Though many of you view Hybrids as inferior, you must treat her like the Queen of Torva she is destined to be." Alaric's gaze skimmed the crowd. "The Queen will be brought here within a week's time. The Council is dismissed."

Conversation erupted across the room. The crowd thinned at an achingly slow rate. It seemed the apprentice would be delayed in reporting to Master Sephtis. The apprentice's gaze roamed the opulent room's black marble walls.

The room had been designed to magnify sound. Perfect for announcements. Less desirable for the buzzing murmur of nobles conversing. The words "queen," "bride," "Hybrid," and "Kimberly" drummed against the walls. Though many likely pitied the King, since he would be marrying a half-human, the apprentice pitied the girl. Not only would she have to remain married to Alaric, at least until the apprentice killed him, but she'd also have to adjust to Torva.

Though Torva had been inhabited for longer than Earth, Earth's technology far outpaced his people's. After Cade, a Torvan country in the west, had used gunpowder in the Unification War, the other four countries of Torva—Taijeng, Zobasii, Arwa, and Silva—made laws to halt the advance of technology in hopes of preserving the peace. After the war, all the countries, excluding Zobasii, joined together to form the United Countries of Torva.

The apprentice caught sight of two peaks of leathery green poking above the flow of people. The crowd rippled before parting for Alaric as he strode toward the apprentice.

When Alaric halted before him, the apprentice resisted the urge to peer down at him and make a mockery of his height; he was, after all, short for a Torvan. Instead, the apprentice bowed reverently. "Your Majesty."

Alaric returned the greeting with a nod. "I wanted to thank you for selecting the bride. Selecting her myself would have diverted my attention from other pressing matters."

The apprentice nodded. "It was my honor."

"Your service to the United Countries of Torva is appreciated."

A Taijese nobleman—a marquess, judging by the copper in his clothing—had edged his way toward them, ribbons of sweat trickling down his narrow face. Despite the approaching Autumnal Equinox, the heat in the Council room caused the apprentice's tunic to cling to him. How did the Taijese stand such robes?

The Taijese Marquess bowed. "Your Majesty. I have some questions concerning your newly obtained legislative powers."

Alaric's smile was stiff with civility. "Nothing is official until I've wed Kimberly, but I'll gladly hear your concerns."

The Marquess released a stream of words from his mustached mouth as he jabbered about Alaric creating a law to repair the roads in Taijeng.

Taijeng... It'd been a long time since he'd visited Taijeng.

The apprentice tossed the thought aside. Perhaps he would travel to Taijeng later, but right now he couldn't afford any distractions. He had a report to deliver to Master Sephtis.

The apprentice slipped between the nobles and the long ribbon of a table behind him. He fixed his gaze on the double wooden doors in the back—his escape.

When he opened a door into the hallway, cool air kissed his moist forehead. Even though his report had been delayed, the apprentice suspected his master would be pleased with the King's announcement.

The pace of his heart quickened. After years of waiting, biding his time, and gaining Alaric's trust, the plan would finally come to fruition. In a matter of months, the apprentice would kill Alaric just as he'd killed Alaric's father. Alaric had taken everything he loved, so he would take everything Alaric loved.

His crown. His kingdom. His life.

Everything.

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