Chapter One

Shark Tank


Every time Imogen had felt down, August was quick to respond. No questions asked, he would surround her with a fortress of pillows, prepare bowls of movie snacks, and set cinematic classics to play on his massive HD television. She would lean into his soft embrace until she felt good enough to criticize the unrealistic, shallow plot-lines. He would laugh at her and tell her to stop ruining the experience. She would throw a pillow at him. They would spend hours together, cherishing the moments they were able to steal out of their busy lives.

Now, all she had was the warmth of her blankets and a mug of green tea. In front of her was her fifth nature documentary of the week. No pillows, no snacks, no movies.

No August.

She had never liked movies anyways.

"The female leopard shark can reproduce without a male through a process called parthenogenesis. Though it does not occur in mammals, scientists have observed that parthenogenesis frequently occurs in nature, particularly in—"

The sound of a knock on the door broke her reverie. "Can I come in?"

Imogen sighed, reaching for the remote control. "The door's unlocked," she called back, reluctantly turning down the volume.

The door opened. Her younger sister—Princess Eden—cautiously poked her head in. "Is everything okay?"

The last time Eden had visited her room, blankets had been strewn all over the floor, so Imogen understood the concern. Still, Imogen decided not to respond but patted the space on the couch next to her.

Eden shut the door behind her and perched on the edge of the couch. "You missed breakfast again," she said. If Imogen hadn't become practiced at detecting Eden's concern over the years, it would sound almost accusative. "How are you feeling?"

For the past six weeks, Eden had asked her the same question. Great. I haven't cried yet, so that's already better than yesterday. Still missing August like hell.

That wouldn't comfort either of them. It would probably make things worse.

And while Eden had always been there for her, there were some things Imogen couldn't bring herself to say out loud. She hugged her knees closer to her chest as silence settled over them. In the background, a leopard shark swam across the television screen.

A sigh from next to her. Then, "Are you coming to the Council meeting?"

There was a meeting today? The last thing she wanted was to face the den of vipers—more aptly, the tank of sharks—after they had probably complained about her for the past six weeks. It only took a couple of days to be seen as an "emotional wreck" when she had bottled up her emotions for years. The Council thought she was weak.

At that moment, seeking comfort from documentaries and the loneliness of her room, she had to agree with them.

"I don't think so."

Eden frowned. "You've missed two meetings in the past six weeks. How is the Council going to react?"

"I've missed two meetings in the past 22 years," Imogen corrected. "I've been dedicated to this position all my life. I just…" She closed her eyes. I'm scared right now, Eden. The words died on her tongue. Instead, she said, "You wouldn't know how it feels."

When she opened her eyes again, Eden regarded her with an expression of hurt. "I'm worried for you," she stated plainly. "This isn't like you, Imogen. Gus—"

Imogen flinched. That nickname opened too many old wounds. "—August. His name is August."

"…August was an idiot for letting you go," Eden said, after a pause. "But you're the crown princess. He's, what, a B-list movie star? I know it hurts, but you can't pine after him forever."

"I don't want forever." Imogen sighed. "I want… I don't know what I want." Even saying the words made heat flood into her cheeks. She turned to stare out of the window, purposefully avoiding Eden's gaze.

Eden's voice softened. "Imogen, you're not going to be in love with August for the rest of your life. You have so many great things in your future. You're going to become the queen of Illéa." Imogen turned around. "But to do that, you need to leave your room."

There it was—the foolproof queen card. Imogen looked down, guilt coursing through her. Every time Eden brought up the question of becoming queen, Imogen couldn't help but think about the secrets she was still keeping, even from her half-sister, and what she had stolen from her.

However, she then sat up straighter and lifted her chin. Eden was right. She was the future queen. The longer she stayed in this room and thought about August, the more she jeopardized her future.

If everything August had told her was a lie, she might as well pretend it had never happened in the first place. Even if it hurt like hell.

She took a deep, shaky breath.

"Fine. I might go."

Eden smiled in relief. "I'm not asking you to forget the past. Just promise me you'll leave this room today. Take baby steps." She glanced around the room, her eyes settling on the television screen, and her nose wrinkled in disgust. "And stop watching documentaries about shark reproduction."

For the first time in several days, Imogen let out a laugh. "Animal Planet is a great source of distraction, thank you." She sighed. "I'll try. I promise."


In the last ten minutes of the meeting, Imogen entered the room.

Her father—King Theodore—paused mid-sentence. All heads turned to her so fast that she was briefly reminded of the sharks in the documentary, swarming around a drop of blood. The clack of her shoes echoed in the silence as she walked across the room to the empty seat beside Eden.

She forced a smile and sat down, crossing her legs. "Please continue," she said smoothly.

Theodore opened his mouth, only for Lady Dariele Fortescue to beat him to it. "How nice of you to finally join us, Your Highness," she simpered, the thin-lipped smile not quite reaching her eyes. Her fingers seemed to curl tighter around her pen. "We missed your presence."

Imogen knew better than to respond. Who knew missing two meetings had made her Public Enemy Number One?

"Yes, yes—" Theodore waved his hand, clearly sensing the tension— "thank you for coming, Imogen." He cleared his throat. "You came at a good time. We were just discussing what could be done about dissenters in the northwestern provinces."

"Fascinating."

Eden shot her a look. Imogen quickly tried to impart some more energy into her voice. "Uh, why exactly are they unhappy?"

She did not want to be under the intense lights, surrounded by shifty nobles, trying to pretend that she cared about the current state of the country. She couldn't even remember what they had been discussing six weeks ago.

"Well, according to Hector, the recent adjustments to the welfare policies have received some backlash on social media." Lady Aurora Beaufort was the only member of House Beaufort in attendance, as usual. "Primarily among the youth. They have concerns about the high youth unemployment rate in that area."

"I really don't think it's a major concern," Lord Jacques Taylour said. "Unless the movement gains trajectory, a couple of young people aren't likely to cause any problems. You know, they always need something to be angry about."

Imogen and Eden, as the only two "young people" in the room, exchanged offended glances. He's the youngest head of house here, Imogen mouthed. Rude. It seemed that the Council hadn't become magically less annoying during her absence. What a pity.

Lord Hector Fortescue didn't attempt to conceal his eye-roll. "Thank you for the input, Jacques, but from what Dariele and I have seen in Yukon, the situation could worsen. Especially now that they have little else to focus on."

"Are you suggesting they need a distraction?" Theodore frowned. "Perhaps it's time for what we discussed at the last meeting."

Eden's eyes widened. "Father, if I may, I don't think this is a good idea."

Based on the many pairs of eyes now drifting Imogen's way, again, this was probably related to her. What could she offer the country in terms of a distraction?

"We did not ask you, Your Highness—"

"Dariele, watch your tone," Theodore warned. Dariele sat up straighter, her eyes narrowing. "Eden, don't interfere with matters that don't concern you." Eden sunk lower into her seat.

Imogen cleared her throat. "Can someone please tell me what this idea is?"

This time, all eyes were on the king. Imogen held her breath as he looked down at his notes. "You're going to have a Selection."

Dead silence. Then—

"I'm sorry?" Imogen spluttered, her shoulders stiffening. "You think—Selection—a Selection?"

"Yes."

The conference room spun around her. "A Selection."

Imogen leaned back in her chair. The disaster that had led to her father's divorce. A televised search to find her future husband. Dating 35 unfamiliar men.

She felt dizzy.

A Selection.

"It's been less than six weeks since the breakup!"

"About time." Dariele's sharp voice only spurred the sinking feeling in Imogen's stomach. "We knew that would never last." Why did she have to be right?

Theodore sighed. Imogen couldn't imagine why. He was the one who had suggested this mess. "Meeting dismissed. I need to speak to my family."

As the other nobles grumbled and filed out of the room, her sister and father refused to meet her eye. Meanwhile, her stepmother—Queen Florence—acknowledged her with a nod. Noninterference, the queen's typical strategy. Most of the time, Imogen had to admit, it worked pretty well for her.

As soon as the door shut, Imogen jumped to her feet. "Don't you see that this is a horrible idea?" She searched her father's eyes for some indication as to where this crazy notion had sprung from. A place of love? Pride? Disappointment? "The other houses will be hanging around the palace for months, trying to decide who I get to marry and tampering with my personal life. Do you want to give them more power?"

"It's more complicated than that," Theodore said, scowling. "Relations were already tense before, and your absence for the past six weeks has not helped. With a Selection, their efforts will be focused on the competition, and not on trying to seize our power. Hector and Dariele wouldn't dare try anything with the public watching. We need a Selection to secure the bloodline and show that the throne still belongs to the Caswells. You are our best hope of doing that."

Just as she'd expected, it wasn't about her. Would she feel better if he directly told her that she needed to settle down? Or that she had messed up, and was being inflicted with a Selection as punishment?

Theodore cocked his head. "Besides, I thought you would want to ascend sooner rather than later."

At least he knew her well enough to be correct about that. Imogen had set her eyes on the crown before she learned to walk. After knowing the truth of her parentage, she still refused to give up the only future she'd ever known.

Even if it wasn't rightfully hers.

But marrying an unfamiliar man within a few months? A year ago, she might have been warmer to the idea. She could always marry a complacent, weak-willed man and rule Illéa comfortably by herself. She would play along with any charade if it brought her closer to her coronation.

That was, of course, before August Hirsch broke up with her.

She tried to sound strong. Her voice wouldn't stop trembling. "I'm not ready for this. August and I were together for nearly ten months—"

"—And you should consider it a kindness that I gave you ten months," Theodore said. "I could have ended your relationship and filed a restraining order against him as soon as I found out. How many princesses are lucky enough to have secret relationships? If you want to become queen, you need to have a Selection first."

He was right. Of course, he was right.

And part of her—the part that arrived early to every meal, read over every report he assigned her, and always played the role of the perfect daughter—knew a Selection was inevitable. Finding a husband was one more sacrifice she would have to make before she could take power.

This was the most attention her father had given her since the breakup. Maybe, if she married a king consort he was satisfied with, he would smile at her, ruffle her hair and tell her how proud he was.

All she had to do was speed through a Selection, marry a tolerable and spineless boy who the country didn't hate, prevent the other houses from gaining too much power, and lock herself in her room every time memories of August came flooding back. In the end, when she would finally show her father and the whole of Illéa that she deserved to rule the country, it would be worth it.

Guess I'm having a Selection.


You're probably thinking, "Rysa, you have two stories on hiatus."

Well, you wouldn't be wrong. But it's been a really long time since I've written for this fandom, and my writing has grown considerably since then. For the time being, I want to challenge myself by writing something different.

This is going to be my April Camp NaNo project, so I'm hoping to get into the habit of writing regularly and updating consistently. However, keep in mind that despite the coronavirus situation, I am still in full-time online school so I will not be pumping out updates every day.

Want to join me for the Selection of Princess Imogen Caswell? Sweet! Below is all the information you'll need. Please read through it carefully. At the moment, my spots are almost filled, but I will still accept some reservations. However, when requesting to reserve a spot, please give me a brief description of the character you will probably submit. This is so I can compare them to other submissions and accept ones that will work best with the story.

Now onto the important information!

Worldbuilding: This story takes place in a future Illéa, where Illéa gained independence from New Asia (again) after years of military occupation. At the time, the family that led the movement for independence was promoted to the royal family, and five other influential families were given noble status. Since then, there has never been an addition to the noble families, so six noble families have governed Illéa with the royal family having the most power. To unite the country and promote nationalism, the Selection was brought back, and has occurred in every generation since then. There are no castes, but inequality still affects the country. More information shall be revealed as the story progresses!

Form: On my profile!

Rules:

1. Diversity and originality are key. I would like to see different races, sexual orientations, professions, personalities, and anything else you can think of. Give me that diversity! Also, please submit a new character, not one you have already submitted to another SYOC. If that SYOC was discontinued, PM me and we shall discuss.

2. Detail is my best friend. I don't want to read 1k about your chapter's hair, but I do want to get a solid grasp of your character. If you haven't covered everything I need to know, expect that I may be following up with additional questions so I can write your character better. The better I understand your character, the better I can write him. The optional fun section is, well, optional, but I'd love to have more insight on your character!

3. Give me feedback throughout the story. I don't need reviews every chapter, but an occasional check-in to let me know how I'm portraying your character is extremely helpful! Otherwise, I don't know if you're still reading, or if I've gotten your character completely wrong.

4. PM me the forms by March 31st. Title your submission "First Name Last Name, Province" (i.e. Imogen Caswell, Angeles) and send it to me through a PM. Please try to keep other discussions to a different PM thread, or Discord, so the form is all in one place. Please let me know if you have trouble meeting this deadline! We'll work something out :)

5. Please do not make your character related to the nobles or familiar with the princess. It's fine if they've met once or twice and you explain their encounter, but I would prefer not to have someone who is part of the princess's history or comes from a noble house. (Unless I have given you the a-okay! You can always run your ideas by me as well.)

Thank you to some very kind pals (y'all know who you are) who have listened to me spitball plot about this story (trust me, it ain't ending here) or hyped me up.

With that out of the way, hope all of you are staying safe and living your best lives~

—Rysa