Chapter no 24

Fourth Wing (The Empyrean Book 1)

I move to scoot up the bed so I can sit, but the pain in my arm reminds me that there was a dagger in it a couple of hours ago. Now it’s bandaged. “How many stitches?”

“Eleven on one side and nineteen on the other.” He arches a dark brow and leans forward, bracing his elbows on his knees. “You turned oranges into a weapon, Violence?”

I wiggle to a sitting position and shrug. “I worked with what I had.”

“Seeing as it kept you alive-kept us alive-I can’t really argue, and I’m not going to ask how it is you always know who you’ll end up challenging.” There’s definite anger in that gaze but a touch of relief, too. “Telling Ridoc allowed Emetterio to get him here in time. Unfortunately, he’s five beds down from you, and he’ll live, unlike the second-year a row over. You could have killed him and saved us all a lot of drama.”

“I didn’t want to kill him.” I roll my shoulder, testing it. Sore, but not dislocated. My face is tender, too. “I just wanted him to stop killing me.”

“You should have told me.” The accusation rips from his lips in a snarl.

“And you could have done nothing about it besides make me look weak.” I narrow my eyes at him. “And you haven’t exactly been around to talk about anything in weeks. If I didn’t know better, I’d think that kiss scared you.” Shit. I didn’t mean to say that.

“That’s not up for discussion.” Something flashes in his eyes and is quickly replaced by a cool mask of indifference.

“Seriously?” I should know better, considering he’s avoided it this long.

“It was a mistake. You and I are going to be stationed together for the rest of our lives, never able to escape the other. Getting involved-even on a physical level-is a colossal blunder. No point talking about it.”

I barely keep from clutching at my chest to see if all my organs are where they’re supposed to be, since it feels like he just eviscerated me with four sentences. But he had been just as into it as I was. I was there, and there was no mistaking that kind of…enthusiasm. But maybe it was the churam. “What if I want to talk about it?”

“Then feel free, but it doesn’t mean I have to be a part of the conversation. We’re both allowed our boundaries, and this is one of mine.” The finality in his tone makes my stomach curdle. “I’ll agree that keeping my distance didn’t work out so well, and if today’s little stunt was about getting my attention, then congratulations. It’s yours.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I swing my feet to the side of the bed. I need my boots and to get the hell out of here before I make an even bigger fool of myself.

“Apparently I can’t trust Liam to report deadly situations or Rhiannon to train you on the mat, seeing how easily Barlowe had you pinned, so as of this moment, I’m taking over.”

“Taking over what?” My eyes narrow. “Everything when it comes to you.”

The next day, during what should be our flight hours if not for the howling, subzero winds outside, Xaden has me on the mat. Fortunately, he has his shirt on, so I’m not distracted by what I know is under it. No, he’s not only wearing fighting leathers and boots, he’s strapped to the nines with what looks to be a dozen different daggers in a dozen different sheaths.

Is it absolutely toxic that I’m attracted to this look on him? Probably. But one look, and my temperature rises.

“Leave your blades off the mat,” he instructs, and nearly a dozen riders glance our way from other mats.

At least Liam has been given the time to go train himself a couple of mats over against Dain-a first. Most of the squads are in here, making use of the unexpected free time, so thankfully everyone is busy training instead of watching us.

“But you’re armed.” I glance pointedly to his sheaths.

“You either trust me or you don’t.” He tilts his head to the side slightly, exposing more of the rebellion relic curving up around his neck. The same relic I caressed with my hand while he had me against the foundation wall more than a month ago.

Nope. Not thinking about that.

But my body has no problem remembering.

I blow out my breath in a long sigh and step to the edge of the mat, unsheathing every dagger I own and the ones I’ve won, then laying them on the floor.

“I’m unarmed. Happy now?” I turn to face him, putting my arms out. My long sleeve covers the bandage on my arm, but the throb is insistent. “Though we probably could have waited a couple of days for my arm to heal up before doing this.” The stitches pull, but I’ve had worse.

“No.” He shakes his head, unsheathing one of his daggers and walking forward. “The enemy doesn’t give a shit if you’re wounded. They’ll use it to their advantage. If you don’t know how to fight in pain, then you’ll get us both killed.”

“Fine.” I shift my body weight in annoyance. Little does he know, I’m almost always in pain. It’s pretty much my comfort zone. “That’s actually a good point, so I’ll let you have it.”

“Thank you for being so gracious.” He smirks, and I ignore the immediate surge of warmth low in my belly. He flips his palm upward, showing me the dagger with an oddly short blade. “The problem isn’t necessarily your fighting style. You’re fast, and you’ve become pretty damned formidable since August. The problem is you’re using daggers that are too easy to pluck out of your hands. You need weaponry designed for your body type.”

At least he didn’t say weaknesses.

I study the blade in his hand. It’s beautiful, with a solid black hilt engraved with Tyrrish knots, old, mythical runes of intricate swirls and ties.

The blade itself is clearly honed to lethal perfection. “It’s spectacular.”

“It’s yours.”

My head snaps up, but there’s no lie in his onyx eyes.

“I had it made for you.” His lips curve slightly.

“What?” My mouth opens, and my chest tightens. He took the time to have it made? Shit. That gives me feelings I really don’t want to have. Soft, confusing feelings.

“You heard me. Take it.”

Swallowing the illogical lump in my throat, I take the blade from him. It feels solid in my palm but is infinitely lighter than my other daggers. There’s no strain on my wrist, and my fingers comfortably wrap around the hilt, making it much more secure than the knives I’ve left on the floor.

“Who made it?”

“I know someone.”

“In the quadrant?” My eyebrows shoot up.

“You’d be surprised how resourceful you get after three years here.” A smirk tugs at the corner of his mouth, and I openly stare before remembering where we are.

“It’s incredible.” I shake my head and hand it back to him. “But you know I can’t take it. The only weapons we’re allowed to have are the ones we earn.” Only challenges or weapons qualifications are acceptable. There’s a crossbow I have my eye on that I’m not quite expert at yet.

“Exactly.” He smiles for a flash of a second before moving with a speed I’ve never dreamed possible. He’s even faster than Imogen as he sweeps my feet from under me with one strike, taking me to the mat in a single move.

The ease with which he has me on my back is simultaneously appalling and…ridiculously hot, especially with the weight of his hips settled between my thighs. It takes all my willpower not to reach up and brush the stray lock of hair from his forehead. It was a mistake.

Well, if that memory doesn’t cool me right off.

“And what point are you making with this little move?” I ask, well aware that he’s done it all without knocking the wind out of me.

“There are a dozen of these daggers strapped to my body, so start disarming me.” He lifts a sardonic brow. “Unless you don’t know how to handle an opponent on top of you, and if so, that’s a whole other issue.” “I know how to handle you on top of me,” I challenge quietly.

He lowers his mouth to my ear. “You won’t like what happens if you push me.”

“Or maybe I will.” I turn just enough that my lips brush the shell of his ear.

He jerks up, and the heat in his gaze makes me all too aware of everywhere our bodies connect. “Disarm me before I test that theory in front of everyone in this gym.”

“Interesting. I didn’t take you for an exhibitionist.”

“Keep pushing, and I guess you’ll find out.” His gaze drops to my mouth.

“I thought you said kissing me was a mistake.” I don’t care if the entire quadrant is watching if that means he’ll kiss me again.

“It was.” He smirks. “I’m just teaching you that blades aren’t the only way to disarm an opponent. Tell me, Violence, are you disarmed?” Arrogant ass.

I scoff and start plucking knives from their sheaths, flinging them across the mat while he watches with impatient amusement. Then I lock my legs around his hips and force a roll to the left, putting Xaden on his back. Willingly, of course-there’s no way I’m kneeling on top of him if he doesn’t want it that way-but I throw a forearm against his collarbone with the pretense of pinning him anyway and proceed to steal the other daggers he has sheathed along his side.

“And lastly,” I say with a smile, leaning forward, our heated bodies nearly flush as I snatch the dagger right out of his hand. “Thank you.”

The final blade secure, Xaden throws his palms to the mat and shoves with unnatural strength, arching us straight back until my spine kisses the mat again.

“That’s.” I suck in a breath, the move shocking me to my toes and lodging him firmly between my thighs. It takes everything I have not to arch up against him and see if he really thinks that kiss was a mistake. “Not fair to use your powers on the mat.” Magical. Sexual. Whatever. It’s all unfair.

“That’s the other thing.” He jumps to his feet and offers his hand. I take it, my head rushing as I stand. Not now. Do not get dizzy now. “Emetterio doesn’t allow powers in order to level the playing field when it comes to challenges. But out there? The field is anything but level, and you need to learn to use whatever you’ve got.”

“I can’t do much beside ground, shield, and move a piece of parchment.” I sheathe the new dagger, then collect the others and do the same. They really are lovely, all marked with different runes. It’s a shame there are so many parts of Tyrrish culture that were lost centuries ago during the unification, including most runes. I don’t even know what they all mean.

“Well, looks like we’re going to have to work on that, too.” He sighs and takes up a fighting stance. “Now, earn your nickname and try your best to kill me.”

February flies by in a blur of exhaustion. Xaden takes every unscheduled moment of my day, and Dain’s gritted his teeth more than once when the wingleader has pulled me out of squad training because he has something infinitely more important for me to do.

Which usually ends with me getting my ass handed to me repeatedly on the mat.

But I have to say, he doesn’t baby me like Dain, and he doesn’t take it easy on me like Rhiannon does. He pushes me to my physical limit every session but never further, usually leaving me a boneless, sweaty heap on the sparring gym floor, gasping for breath.

That’s usually when Imogen reminds me that I’m needed in the weight room.

I hate them both.

Kind of.

It’s hard to argue with the results when I’m learning to take down the strongest fighter in the quadrant. I have yet to beat him, but I’m all right with that. It means he doesn’t let me win.

He also doesn’t kiss me again, even when I push.

March arrives with uncountable feet of snow that have to be shoveled before morning formation every day. And the moments the relic burns in my back and I feel like I might crawl out of my own skin if the power building within me doesn’t release reminds me that I still don’t have a signet. It’s already almost been three months.

Every morning I wake up wondering if today is the day I’ll spontaneously combust.

“Sharla Gunter,” Captain Fitzgibbons reads from the death roll, his gloved hands slipping on the frozen parchment. It’s warmer this week, but not by much. “And Mushin Vedie. We commend their souls to Malek.”

“Vedie?” I ask Rhiannon, my eyebrows shooting up as formation ends. I didn’t know him well, since he was in Second Wing, but the name is still a shock, considering he was rumored to be one of the best among us.

“You didn’t hear?” She pulls her fur-lined cloak closer around her neck. “His signet manifested in the middle of Carr’s class yesterday, and he burst into flames.”

“He…burned himself to death?”

She nods. “Tara said Carr thinks he was supposed to be able to wield fire, but it just overwhelmed him in that first rush and…”

“He went up like a torch,” Ridoc adds. “Kind of makes you glad your signet’s still hiding, huh?”

“Hiding is one way to put it.” Other than the ability I’m not supposed to even whisper about, I’m proving to be the one thing my mother hates- average. And it’s not as though I can go to Tairn or Andarna for help. The signet is all about me, and I’m apparently not delivering, as the stinging relic on my back constantly reminds me. There’s a tiny, secret part of me that hopes my signet hasn’t manifested yet because it’s different than the others, not only useful but…meaningful, like Brennan’s was.

“Definitely makes me want to skip class today,” Rhiannon mutters, blowing on her hands to keep them warm.

“No skipping class,” Dain admonishes, pinning us with a stare. “We’re weeks away from the Squad Battle and we need every single one of you at your best to win.”

Imogen snorts. “Come on, Aetos, I think we all know Second Wing has that squad in Tail Section that’s going to smoke the rest of us. Have you ever seen them sprint up the Gauntlet? Pretty sure they’ve been out there even though it’s still covered in ice.”

“We’re going to win,” Cianna, our executive officer, proclaims with a decisive nod. “Sorrengail here might slow us down on the Gauntlet”-she wrinkles her hawkish nose-“and probably in the wielding department, too, at the rate she’s advancing-”

“Gee, thanks.” I fold my arms across my chest. Bet I can shield better than all of them combined.

“But Rhiannon’s skills more than make up for that,” Cianna continues. “And we all know Liam and Heaton are both going to decimate on the mat for the challenge competition. That only leaves flight maneuvers and whatever task the wingleaders come up with to judge this year.”

“Oh, is that all? Man, I thought it was going to be hard.” The sarcasm rolling off Ridoc is thick enough to earn him a glare from Dain.

“We’re down to ten of you,” Dain says, glancing over our group. “Twelve of us in total, which puts us at a slight disadvantage against a couple other squads, but I think we’ll manage.”

We lost two of the new additions last week when the smaller one’s signet manifested in Battle Brief and they both froze to death in seconds, nearly taking out Ridoc with the exposure, too. He was treated for frostbite but didn’t have any permanent damage. Now Nadine and Liam are the only ones left from the batch we acquired after Threshing.

“But in order to manage, I need you guys to get to class.” He lifts his brows at me. “Especially you. A signet would be great, you know. If you can maybe make that happen.” It’s as if he can’t decide how to treat me lately, as the first-year who’s struggling but still here or the girl he grew up with.

I hate how unsettled everything feels between us, all wrongly sticky, like putting on clothes before you can dry after a bath, but it’s still Dain. At least he’s finally being supportive.

“She’s going to miss Carr’s class today,” Xaden interrupts, appearing behind Sawyer, who hurries to clear a path.

“No I’m not.” I shake my head and ignore the quick jump of my pulse at the sight of him.

“She needs to go,” Dain argues, then grits his teeth. “I mean, unless the wing has more pressing matters for Cadet Sorrengail, her time is best spent developing her wielding skills.”

“I think we both know she’s not going to manifest a signet in that room. She would have already if that was the key.” I wouldn’t wish the look Xaden levels Dain with on my worst enemy. It’s not anger or even indignation. No, he looks…annoyed, as if Dain’s complaints are entirely beneath him, which, according to our chain of command, they are. “And yes, the wing has more pressing matters for her.”

“Sir, I’m just not comfortable with her going a day without at least practicing her wielding, and as her squad leader-”

He doesn’t know that Xaden’s been giving me extra wielding sessions while we spar.

“For Dunne’s sake.” Xaden sighs, invoking the goddess of war. He reaches into the pocket of his cloak and takes out a pocket watch, holding it in his outstretched palm. “Pick it up, Sorrengail.”

I glance at the two men and wish they’d just sort their shit out between themselves, but there’s about a zero percent chance of that happening. For the sake of expediency, I throw my mental feet into the floor of the Archives. White-hot power flows around me, raising goose bumps on my arms and lifting the hair at the back of my neck.

Raising my right hand, I envision that power twining between my fingers, and little shocks blossom along my skin as I give form to the energy, making it a hand of its own as I ask it to stretch the few feet that separate me from Xaden.

There’s an abrupt halt, as though my tendrils of raw magic hit a wall, but then it gives, and I push forward, keeping tight control of the blazing hand. There’s a crackle in my head, like the dying embers of a fire, as my power brushes Xaden’s hand, but I close my mental fist around the pocket watch and then pull.

It’s fucking heavy.

“You got this,” Rhiannon urges.

“Let her concentrate,” Sawyer chides.

The watch plummets for the ground, but I snap my hand back, yanking on my power as though it’s a rope, and the watch flies toward me. I catch it with my left hand before it can smack me in the face.

Rhiannon and Ridoc clap.

Xaden walks forward and plucks the watch from my fingers, dropping it into his cloak. “See? She’s practiced. Now, we have things to do.” He puts his hand on the small of my back and leads me out of the crowd.

“Where are we going?” I loathe the way my body demands I lean back into his touch, but I miss it the second it’s gone.

“I’m assuming you’re not wearing flight leathers under that cloak.” He opens the door to the dormitory for me, and I walk inside. The motion is so easy that I know it’s not only practiced but second nature, which is at complete odds with, well…everything I’ve come to know about him.

I pause, looking at him like we’re meeting for the first time.

“What?” he asks, closing the door behind us and shutting out the blustering cold.

“You opened the door for me.”

“Old habits die hard.” He shrugs. “My father taught me that-” His voice dies abruptly, and his gaze falls away, every muscle in his body locking as though he’s preparing for an attack.

My heart aches at the look that crosses his face, recognizing it well. Grief.

“Don’t you think it’s a little cold for flying?” I ask, changing the subject in an attempt to help. The pain in his eyes is the kind that never dies, the kind that rises like an unpredictable tide and floods the shoreline without mercy.

He blinks, and it’s gone. “I’ll wait here.”

I nod and hurry to change into the fur-lined leathers we’re issued for winter flight. He has that unreadable mask on when I return, and I know there won’t be any more doors held on my account today.

We walk out across the emptying courtyard as cadets scurry off to classes. “You didn’t answer me.”

“About what?” He keeps his eyes on the gate to the flight field path and I have to damn near scurry to keep up with his strides.

“About it being cold for flight.”

“Third-years have flight field this afternoon. Kaori and the other professors are just taking it easy on you guys, since the Squad Battle is coming up and they know you need the practice in wielding.” He pushes open the gate, and I hurry after him.

“But I don’t need the practice?” My voice echoes in the tunnel.

“Winning the Squad Battle is nothing in the scheme of keeping you alive. You’ll be on the front lines before the rest of them come next year.” The mage lights play off the harsh angles of his face, casting sinister shadows as we pass each one.

“Is that what’s going to happen next year?” I ask as we come out the other side, the snow whiting out my vision momentarily. It’s piled high on each side of the path, the result of this heavy winter. “I’m going to the front lines?”

“Inevitably. There’s no telling how long Sgaeyl and Tairn will tolerate being separated. My best guess is that we’ll both have to sacrifice to keep them happy.” He’s clearly not so happy about it himself, but I can’t blame him. After three years in the quadrant, I’d want to get the hell out, too. My stomach sinks as I realize I’ll be in his shoes when I graduate as well, with no real control on how our dragons’ bond dictates my future posts.

I nod, not knowing what else to say, and we walk to the Gauntlet in companionable silence.

“Second Wing,” I note, watching the squad from Tail Section slip and slide their way across the Gauntlet. “You sure you don’t want your own squads out here practicing?”

A corner of his mouth lifts, and that inhuman facade of his cracks.

“When I was a first-year, I thought winning was the pinnacle, too. But once you’re in your third year, and you see the things that we do…” His jaw flexes. “Let’s just say that the games are a lot more lethal.”

We head toward the staircase that leads to the flight field, but there’s already a group coming down, so I move back to let them descend first.

My heart launches into my throat as they come closer, and I snap my frame to an attention stance, my spine stiffening. It’s Commandant Panchek and Colonel Aetos.

Reaching the ground first, Dain’s dad offers me a smile. “At ease. You’re looking well, Violet. Nice flight lines,” he says, gesturing to the ones on his own cheekbones that come from flight goggles. “You must be getting a lot of airtime.”

“Thank you, sir, I am.” I relax my posture and can’t help but return the favor, but my lips are tight. “Dain is doing well, too. He’s my squad leader this year.”

“He’s told me.” He grins, his brown eyes just as warm as Dain’s. “Mira asked about you while we were touring the Southern Wing last month. Don’t worry, you’ll get your letter privileges in second year, and then you can keep in touch more often. I’m sure you miss her.”

“Every day.” I nod, pushing past the swell of emotion the admission brings. It’s so much easier to pretend there’s nothing outside the walls than to wallow in how much I miss my sister.

Xaden stiffens at my side as Mom steps out of the stairwell. Oh shit.

“Mom,” I blurt, and her head turns, her eyes meeting mine. It’s been more than five months since I’ve seen her, and even though I want to be as composed as she is, as compartmentalized, I just can’t. I’m not built like she is, like Mira is. I’m my father’s daughter.

Her assessing gaze sweeps over me with all the familiarity of a commanding general and a Basgiath cadet, and there’s no warmth in her expression as she finishes her perusal. “I hear you’re having trouble wielding.”

I blink and step backward, as though physical distance is going to shelter me from the icy rebuke. “I have the best shields in my year.” For the first time, I’m actually glad I haven’t manifested a signet, haven’t given her something to brag about.

“With a dragon like Tairn, I would certainly hope so.” She cocks an eyebrow. “If not, all of that incredible, enviable power will have been…”

Her sigh is a puff of steam in the air. “Squandered.”

I try my best to swallow the growing knot in my throat. “Yes, General.”

“You have been the topic of some conversation, though.” Her gaze skims the top of my head, and I know she’s looking at the silver-tipped braid she thinks marks me as cursed, the hair she told me I was better off cutting.

“Oh?” She actually talks about me?

“We’re all wondering what powers-if any-you’re wielding from the golden dragon?” Her lips form a smile I’m sure she thinks is soft, but I know her too well to fall for it.

“No.” The single word from Tairn rumbles through my entire body. “Do not speak of it.”

“Nothing yet.” I drag my tongue over my chapped lower lip. Winter is hell on the skin during flight. “Andarna told me that feathertails are known for being unable to channel power to their rider.” Only their direct gifts, but

I’m not about to say that. “It’s why they don’t bond often.”

“Or ever,” Dain’s dad chimes in. “We were actually hoping that you might ask your dragon to allow us to study her. For purely academic purposes, of course.”

My stomach sours. The group of them would poke and prod Andarna for gods know how long to appease their academic curiosity, and they might stumble onto the untapped power of young dragons. No thank you. “Unfortunately, I don’t see her being comfortable with that. She’s pretty private, even with me.”

“Pity,” Colonel Aetos says. “We’ve had the scribes on it since Threshing, and the only reference they can find in the Archives about the power of feathertails is hundreds of years old, which is funny because I remember your father doing a bit of research about the second Krovlan uprising, and he mentioned something about feathertails, but we can’t seem to find that tome.” He scratches his forehead.

Mom looks at me with expectation, as though to ask me without actually asking.

“I don’t believe he finished his research on that particular historical event before he died, Colonel Aetos. I couldn’t even tell you where his notes are.” The words are as true as I can make them. I know exactly where his notes are-in the one location he spent the majority of his after-hours time. But there’s something about Tairn’s warning that makes me simply unable to tell them.

“Too bad.” Mom forces another smile. “Glad to see you’re alive, Cadet Sorrengail.” Her gaze flashes sideways and instantly hardens to steel. “Even

if the company you’re forced to keep is more than questionable.” Shit. Shit. Shit.

I can’t step in front of Xaden and make him look weak. I can’t even glance his way without telling my mother where my allegiance lies… without telling myself.

“I always felt that we resolved any of those questions years ago,” Xaden says, his voice low, but he’s gone taut as a bowstring next to me.

“Hmm.” Mom turns toward the citadel in clear dismissal. “Do see if you can master some kind of signet, Cadet Sorrengail. You have a legacy to live up to.”

“Yes, General.” The informal words cost more than I’m prepared to admit, ripping into the confidence it’s taken me nearly eight months to build with talon-sharp precision.

“Good to see you, Violet.” Dain’s dad offers me a sympathetic smile, and Panchek outright ignores us, running to catch up with Mom.

I don’t say a word to Xaden before I climb the stairs, each step making me only angrier until I’m a ball of rage by the time I reach the top of the cliffside.

“You didn’t tell her about how you got out of the attack in your bedroom,” he says. It’s a statement, not a question. “And I’m not talking about me showing up.”

I know exactly what he’s talking about.

“I don’t ever see her. And you told me not to tell anyone.”

“Didn’t realize it was quite like that between you,” Xaden says, his tone surprisingly soft as we start down the box canyon toward the flight field.

“Oh, that’s nothing,” I toss out, intentionally making my tone as flippant as possible. “She spent almost an entire year ignoring me when Dad died.” A self-deprecating laugh slips past my lips. “Which was almost as wholesome as the years she spent barely tolerating my existence because I wasn’t perfect like Brennan or a warrior like Mira.” I shouldn’t be saying these things. These are the thoughts families keep behind their doors so they can wear their polished, perfect reputations like armor when in public.

“She doesn’t know you very well, then,” Xaden remarks, keeping pace with my furious strides.

I scoff. “Or she sees right through me. Problem is, I’m never quite sure which it is. I’m too busy trying to live up to whatever impossible standard she sets to ask myself if they’re even standards I give a shit about.” My narrowed gaze swings to him. “And what was that about anyway? Saying that you resolved questions years ago?”

“Just reminding her that I paid the price for my loyalty.” His brow furrows, but he stares ahead of us.

“Paid what price?” The question slips out before I can stop my foolish tongue. I can’t help but remember what Dain said, that Xaden has reasons to never forgive my mother.

“Boundaries, Violence.” His head lowers for the span of a heartbeat, and when it rises, he’s wearing that polished give-no-fucks mask he’s so good at donning.

Lucky for us, the strain of the moment is broken as Tairn and Sgaeyl land across the field ahead, accompanied by a shiny smaller dragon who makes me instantly smile.

“We’re all flying today?” I ask, following as he walks toward the trio.

“We’re all learning today. You need to learn how to stay on, and I need to learn why the hell it’s so hard for you,” he answers. “Andarna needs to learn how to keep up. Tairn needs to learn how to share his space in a tighter flight formation, and every other dragon but Sgaeyl is too scared to fly closer.”

Tairn chuffs in agreement as we approach.

“And what is Sgaeyl learning?” I ask, eyeing the giant blue dragon.

Xaden grins. “She’s been leading for almost three years now. She’s going to have to learn how to follow. Or at least practice.”

Tairn’s chuff sounds suspiciously like a laugh, and she snaps at him, baring her teeth and coming within inches of his neck.

“Dragon relationships are absolutely incomprehensible,” I murmur.

“Yeah? You should try a human one sometime. Just as vicious, but less fire.” He mounts with an ease I envy. “Now let’s go.”

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