Chapter no 28

Fourth Wing (The Empyrean Book 1)

The stone wall outside Professor Markham’s office in the Riders Quadrant digs into my back, irritating my relic as I brace all my weight next to the closed door. I’m ready to crawl out of my own skin with worry and the insufferable buildup of power that’s threatening to combust at any moment.

It’s been two days since we left Montserrat. One day of flight back to Basgiath and one excruciatingly long day of silence.

The sun is barely up. I haven’t done library duty since returning, and I’ve somehow managed to get out the door before Liam even knows I’m gone. Breakfast doesn’t matter. I couldn’t give a shit if I miss formation. This is the only place I can contemplate being.

Footsteps on the circular staircase to the left make my stomach tense, and my pulse jumps as my gaze flies to the doorway, looking for the first sign of a cream tunic.

Instead, Xaden walks into the hallway, holding two steaming pewter mugs as he heads straight for me. “Still hate me?”

“Absolutely.” That’s not entirely true, but it’s easy to blame all the guilt I’ve been eating for two straight days on him.

“Figured you’d already be waiting.” He holds out one of the mugs as an offering. “It’s coffee. Sgaeyl says you haven’t slept.”

“It’s none of Sgaeyl’s business if I’m sleeping,” I snip. “But thanks.” I take the cup. He looks like he’s had a full eight hours and a vacation since yesterday. “I bet you’re sleeping like a baby.”

“Quit telling Sgaeyl about my sleep habits,” I grumble at Tairn.

“I’m not dignifying that demand with a response.” “Andarna is my favorite.” Tairn snorts.

Xaden leans back against the wall across from me and sips his coffee. “I haven’t slept well since the night my father left Aretia to declare the secession.”

My lips part. “That was more than six years ago.” He stares at his coffee.

“You were-” I pause. “I don’t even know how old you are now.” Mira was right. I know almost nothing about him. And yet…I feel like I know who he is in the very marrow of his bones. Could my emotions be any more scattered when it comes to him?

“Twenty-three,” he answers. “My birthday was in March.”

And I didn’t even know. “Mine is in-”

“July,” he answers with a ghost of a smile. “I know. I made it my business to know everything there was to know about you the second I saw you on the parapet.”

“Because that’s not creepy.” I let the coffee warm my freezing hands.

“Can’t know how to ruin someone without understanding them first,” he says quietly.

I lift my gaze to find that his is already on me. “And is that still your plan?” Mira’s words have haunted me for two days.

He flinches. “No.”

“What changed?” Frustration tightens my grip on the mug. “When exactly did you decide not to ruin me?”

“Maybe it was when I saw Oren holding a knife to your throat,” he says. “Or maybe it was when I realized the bruises on your neck were fingerprints and wanted to kill them all over again just so I could do it slowly. Maybe it was the first time I recklessly kissed you or when I realized I’m fucked because I can’t stop thinking about doing more than just kissing you.” My breath catches at his admission, but he just sighs, lets his head fall back against the wall. “Does it even matter when, as long as it changed between us?”

“Don’t do that,” I whisper, and he lifts his head again to hold my gaze.

“Don’t do what? Tell you I can’t get you out of my head? Or speak directly into yours?”


“You could learn to do it, too.” Why the hell is it so impossible to look away from him? To remember that kiss on that tower had been a game to him, that this all might be a game to him? To quell this impossible ache that swirls in my stomach every time I think about him? “Come on, give it a try.”

As I stare into his gold-flecked eyes, I decide he’s right. I could at least meet him halfway and try. I put one mental foot in my Archives and feel power ripple through my veins. Bright orange, crackling energy streams in from the door behind me, and there’s a golden light that shines from the window I created just for Andarna. I take a deep breath and turn slowly.

And there, swirling along the edge of the roofline, is a shadow of sparkling night. Xaden.

Footsteps sound on the stairs, and we both look.

“Guess you two had the same idea,” Dain says when he sees us, coming to stand along the wall beside me. “How long have you been waiting?” “Not long,” Xaden answers.

“Hours,” I say simultaneously.

“Damn, Violet.” Dain runs a hand through his damp hair. “Are you hungry? Do you want to get breakfast?”

“No, dumbass, she doesn’t, obviously.” Xaden’s snide commentary fills my head.

“Knock that the fuck off,” I toss back. “No thank you.”

“Look who figured it out.” Xaden’s mouth quirks upward for a heartbeat.

Another set of footsteps echoes up the staircase and I hold my breath, my eyes locked on the doorway.

Professor Markham pauses when he sees the three of us outside his office, then continues toward us. “To what do I owe the pleasure?” “Just tell me if she’s dead.” I move into the center of the hall.

Markham looks at me with more than his fair share of disapproval. “You know I can’t give out classified information. If there’s anything to be discussed, we’ll do it in Battle Brief.”

“We were there. If it’s classified, then we already know about it,” I counter, my hands starting to tremble as I squeeze the pewter harder and harder.

Xaden takes the mug from me.

“It’s hardly appropriate for me to-”

“She’s my sister,” I plead. “I deserve to know if she’s alive, and I deserve not to hear about it in a room full of riders.”

His jaw tightens. “There was considerable damage to the outpost, but we lost no riders at Montserrat.”

Thank gods. My knees give out and Dain catches me, pulling me into his familiar hug as relief floods my system.

“She’s fine, Vi,” Dain whispers into my hair. “Mira’s fine.”

I nod, fighting against a swell of emotions to keep my control. I will not break down. I will not cry. I will not show weakness. Not here.

There’s only one place I can go, one person who won’t chide me for crumbling.

The second I have myself in hand, I step out of Dain’s arms.

Xaden is gone.

I skip breakfast and miss formation to head to the flight field, holding myself together long enough to get to the middle of the meadow, where I drop to my knees.

“She’s all right,” I cry, my head falling into my hands. “I didn’t leave her to die. She’s alive.” There’s a ruffle of air and then the hard feel of scales against the backs of my hands. I lean forward into Andarna’s shoulder,

sagging against her. “She’s alive. She’s alive. She’s alive.” I repeat it until I believe it.

“Do you have any siblings?” I ask Xaden the next time we’re on the mat. Maybe it’s Mira’s comment about me not knowing enough about him, or maybe it’s my own conflicting emotions, but he knows way more about me than I do him, and I need to level this playing field.

“No.” He pauses in surprise. “Why?”

“Just asking.” I take a fighting stance. “Let’s go.”

The next day, I ask him what his favorite food is in the middle of Battle Brief, using our mental connection. Pretty sure I hear him drop something at the back of the room before he answers. “Chocolate cake. Stop being weird.” I grin.

A day later, after Tairn puts me through an absolutely draining set of advanced flight maneuvers most third-years couldn’t stay seated through, either, we’re perched on a mountain peak with Tairn and Sgaeyl when I ask him how he knows Liam, just to see if he’ll tell me the truth.

“We were fostered together. What is with all the questions lately?”

“I barely know you.”

“You know me well enough.” He shoots me a look that says he’s over it.

“Hardly. Tell me something real.”

“Like what?” He turns in his seat to face me.

“Something like what those silver scars on your back are from.” I hold my breath, waiting for the answer, waiting for him to say anything that might let me in.

Even from twenty feet away, I can see him tense. “Why do you want to know?”

My grip tightens on the pommel scales. I instinctively knew the scars were private, but his reaction says there’s more to them than just a painful memory. “Why don’t you want to tell me?”

Sgaeyl startles, then launches into the air, leaving Tairn and me behind.

“Are you pushing for a reason?” Tairn asks.

“Can you give me one not to?”

“He cares for you. That’s already hard enough for him.”

I scoff. “He cares about keeping me alive. There’s a difference.” “Not for him there isn’t.”

The afternoon skies above Basgiath are crystal clear in the middle of May for the first battle of the War Games that signify the approach of graduation. As much as I want to feel excitement that I’m so close to actually surviving my first year in the Riders Quadrant, my stomach is tight with anxiety.

Battle Briefs are getting more redacted. Professor Carr is getting more anxious that I haven’t manifested a signet like almost the entire first-year cadets. Dain is acting weird as fuck-friendly one minute and indifferent the next. Xaden is getting more secretive-if that were even possible- canceling some of our training for unexplained reasons. Even Tairn feels like there’s something he’s not telling me.

“What do you think our assignment is going to be?” Liam asks from my right as we stand in formation in the center of the courtyard with the rest of Fourth Wing. “Deigh thinks we’re on offense. He won’t stop going on about getting to kick Gleann’s ass-” He pauses, as if listening to his dragon. “Guess dragons hold grudges,” he finally whispers.

Leadership is gathered ahead of us, getting their assignments from Xaden.

“We’re definitely on offense,” Rhiannon answers from my left. “Otherwise, we’d already be in the field. I haven’t seen a single rider from First Wing since lunch.”

My stomach bottoms out. First Wing. Go figure they’d be our first opponent. Anything goes out there during War Games, and Jack Barlowe hasn’t forgotten that I put him in the infirmary for four days. He gave me a wider berth for weeks after Xaden executed Oren and the other kids who had attacked me-and of course everyone stopped fucking with me after Amber Mavis. But still, I’d catch a look from him as we passed in the halls or in the cafeteria, pure hatred burning in the glacial blue depths of his eyes.

“I think she’s right,” I tell Liam, struggling not to fidget as the sun bakes through my flight leathers. It’s been a while since I’ve envied the scribes and their cream uniforms, but this weather has me feeling like we got the shorter end of the uniform stick. It also doesn’t help that I must have slept wrong, because my knee is killing me, and the stabilizing wrap feels like it’s a million degrees. “Why do you think riders wear black anyway?” “Because it’s badass,” Ridoc answers from behind me.

“So it’s harder to see when we bleed,” Imogen chimes in.

“Forget I asked,” I mumble, watching for any signs that the leadership meeting will be over soon. Bleeding is the last thing I want to do today.

“Are we on offense or defense?” I ask Xaden.

“Little busy right now.”

“Oh no, am I distracting you?” A smile curves my mouth.

Shit, am I flirting? Maybe.

Do I care? Oddly enough…no.

“Yes.” His tone is so gruff that I have to press my lips in a tight line to keep from laughing.

“Come on. You’re taking forever over there. Give a girl a hint.”

“Both,” he growls, but he doesn’t shut me out with his shields-which I know he can do-so I have a little mercy on him and the meeting he’s supposed to be leading and leave him be.

Offense and defense? This afternoon should be interesting.

“You hear from Mira?” Rhiannon whispers, shooting me a quick glance.

I shake my head.

“That’s just…inhumane.”

“Did you honestly think they’d break the no-correspondence rule? Even if they tried, Mom would have shut that down with a quickness.”

Rhiannon sighs, and I don’t blame her. There’s not much more to say on the subject.

The leadership meeting breaks up, and Dain heads over with Cianna. He’s practically beaming, his hands clenching and unclenching with nervous energy.

“Which is it?” Heaton asks. “Offense or defense?”

“Both,” he says as the other squad leaders report back to their riders.

I fake surprise and glance past him, but Xaden and the section leaders are nowhere to be seen.

“First Wing has taken a defensive position in one of the practice forts in the mountains, and they’re guarding a crystal egg,” Dain tells us, and the older riders in our squad murmur with excitement.

Makes sense. It’s probably a symbolic nod to the different breeds of dragons bringing their eggs to Basgiath when Navarre unified.

“What are we missing?” Ridoc asks. “Because you guys seemed thrilled about an egg.”

“From past years, we know that eggs are worth more points,” Cianna says, grinning enthusiastically. “Flags have statistically been the lowest, and captured professors rank somewhere in the middle.”

“But they like to switch it up,” Dain adds. “The same way we could be going for a real objective on the line only to discover it’s not as valuable as we thought.”

“So how is this both offense and defense?” Rhiannon asks. “If they have the egg, then clearly we should go get the egg.”

“Because we’ve also been given a flag to defend and no outpost to do it in.” He grins. “And our squad has been assigned to carry it.”

“You gave Dain the mission to defend Fourth Wing’s flag?”

“I’m hoping he learned something from your sister’s lesson at Montserrat,” Xaden replies, but his voice is quieter, which I’m starting to learn means he’s farther away. I can’t help but wonder if we’ll have the ability to communicate this way in a few months when more distance separates us.

My chest aches at the thought that he won’t be here. He’ll be risking his life on the front lines.

“And who is going to carry this flag?” Imogen asks.

Dain somehow manages to smile even wider. “That’s going to be the fun part.”

Over the next twenty minutes, we’re drilled in strategy during the walk over to the flight field, and from the sound of it, Dain was paying attention to Mira.

The plan is simple: play to our individual strengths and pass the flag often, never giving First Wing a chance to spot who is carrying it.

When we get to the flight field, there are dozens upon dozens of dragons filling the muddy field, all positioned as though they had formation in their squads, too. It’s easy to spot Tairn, seeing as his head rises above all others.

There’s a palpable air of anticipation as we walk by the other squads, all mounting as the squad and section leaders give out last-minute orders.

“We’re going to win,” Rhiannon says with confidence, linking her arm with mine as we approach our section of the field.

“What makes you so sure?”

“We have you, Tairn, Riorson, and Sgaeyl. And obviously-me.” She grins. “There’s no way we’re losing this.”

“You are certainly-” My words die as Tairn comes into full view.

He stands tall and proud at the front of our section, not bothering to give deference to Cath as Dain’s dragon, but it’s not his position that steals my breath. It’s the saddle strapped across his back that has me gawking.

“I hear it’s all the fashion,” Tairn brags.

“That’s…” I don’t even have words. The black metal bands look to be intricately linked as they loop around each foreleg and come together at the front of his chest, forming a triangular plate before rising above his shoulders to a saddle with strapped, secure stirrups. “That’s a saddle.”

“That’s cool, that’s what that is.” Rhiannon thumps my back. “And it looks way more comfortable than Feirge’s bony spine, I’ll tell you that. See you up there.” She walks past Tairn toward her own mount.

“I can’t use that.” I shake my head. “It’s not allowed.”

“I decide what’s allowed and what’s not,” Tairn growls, lowering his head to my level and blasting me with a chuff of steam. “There is no rule that says a dragon cannot modify their seat to serve their rider. You have worked just as hard-if not harder-than every rider in this quadrant. Just because your body is built differently than the others doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to keep your seat. It takes more than a few strips of leather and a pommel to define a rider.”

“He’s right, you know,” Xaden agrees as he approaches, and I briefly wonder where he’d gone that he’s back so quickly.

“No one asked you.” My pulse jolts and my skin flushes at the sight of him. Our uniforms make every rider look good, but Xaden takes even that up a notch with the way it cuts across the muscled lines of his body.

“If you don’t use it, I’ll take personal offense.” He folds his arms across his chest and studies the rigging. “Considering I had it made for you and just about got myself burned alive in the process of trying to get it on him.” He lifts a brow at Tairn. “Even though he helped design it, I might add.”

“The first models were unacceptable, and you had the gall to pinch my chest scales when clumsily assembling it this morning.” Tairn’s golden eyes narrow on Xaden.

“How was I to know the leather from the prototype would burn so easily? And it’s not like there are a lot of manuals on fitting a saddle to a dragon,” Xaden drawls.

“It doesn’t matter because I can’t use it.” I turn to face Xaden. “It’s beautiful, a marvel of engineering…” “And?” His jaw locks.

“And everyone here will know I can’t keep my seat without it.” Heat stings my cheeks.

“Hate to break it to you, Violence, but everyone already knows that.” He gestures to the saddle. “That right there is the most practical way for you to ride. It has straps across your thighs to buckle yourself in once you’re up, and theoretically, you should be able to change positions on long flights without unbuckling, since we built in a lap belt, too.”


“He wasn’t amenable to me giving it a test flight.”

“You can ride me when the flesh rots off my bones, wingleader.” Well, that’s descriptive.

“Look, there’s no rule against it. I checked. And if anything, you’ll be doing Tairn a favor by freeing all his power and taking the weight of worry off his mind. Mine too, if that helps matters.”

My fingernails bite into my palms as I search for another reason, another excuse, but there isn’t one. I might not want to appear different than every other rider on this field, but I already am.

“Fuck, that stubborn, feisty look always makes me want to kiss you.” Xaden’s expression remains bland, bored even, but his eyes heat as his gaze drops to my mouth.

“And you say this now, where people will see if you actually do.” My breath catches.

“When did I ever give you the impression that I give a fuck what people think about me?” A corner of his mouth rises, and now it’s all I can concentrate on, damn him. “I only care what they think about you.” Because he’s a wingleader.

Nothing is worse than cadets gossiping that you’ve slept your way to safety. That’s what Mira warned at Parapet.

“Mount up, Sorrengail. We have a battle to win.”

I rip my gaze from his and study the exquisite, intricate structure of the saddle. “It’s beautiful. Thank you, Xaden.”

“You’re welcome.” He turns but leans into my space, and a shiver dances down my spine when his lips brush my ear. “Consider my favor fulfilled.”

“Is that a saddle?”

I jump back from Xaden, but he doesn’t budge an inch as Dain interrupts, holding a giant yellow flag on a four-foot pole, his eyes wide as he stares at Tairn.

“No, it’s a collar,” Tairn snips, snapping his teeth together.

Dain backs up a few steps.

“Yes,” Xaden answers. “Have a problem with it?”

“No.” Dain looks at Xaden like he’s being unreasonable. “Why would I have an issue with it? I’m fine with whatever keeps Violet safe, if you haven’t noticed.”

“Good.” Xaden nods once and turns toward me. “Bet it would be even more awkward if I kissed you now, huh?” Yes, please.

“The next time we kiss had better not be just to piss off Dain.” The next time had better only be because we want it.

“Next time, huh?” His gaze lowers to my mouth again.

And of course, now that’s all I’m thinking about, the feel of his lips on mine, the way his hands always cradle the nape of my neck, the slide of his tongue. I stop myself from leaning in. Barely. “Go lead your wing-or do whatever it is you do.”

“I’ll be stealing an egg.” His smile flashes before he turns back to Dain. “Keep our flag out of First Wing’s hands.”

Dain nods and Xaden leaves, heading across the field to where Sgaeyl waits.

“It’s a great saddle,” Dain says.

“It is,” I agree, and Dain offers me a smile before walking toward Cath.

Moving toward Tairn’s foreleg, I have to laugh as he dips his shoulder for me. “What? No ladder?”

“We thought about it and decided it would make you too vulnerable.”

“Of course you thought about-” I pause before climbing when a flash of gold gallops toward me. “Andarna?”

“I want to battle, too.” She skids to a halt directly in front of me.

My mouth opens and shuts. Andarna has been flying with us, and for short times, she can keep up with Tairn, but the way those scales shine in the sun is a beacon for…everyone.

But if I can have a saddle, then-

“Got it.” My eyes sweep the flight field, which is at the height of its muddiest since the runoff season from the snowy peaks above. “Go roll.” I point to the mud. “Unless that’s going to mess with your wings? It’s the scales on your belly I’m most worried about being easily spotted.”

“No problem!” She races off, and I mount Tairn, finding the actual saddle covering the seat at the base of his neck and the pommel scales.

“I thought you said leather was bad?” The saddle itself is sumptuous black leather, complete with two raised pommels for my hands, and when I settle in, it fits like a dream. I bend and adjust the stirrups with the buckle system on the straps.

“The leather is a hazard on my chest if we take a fire attack, since your saddle would slide right off. But if you take a direct blast up there, sitting on a piece of metal isn’t going to save you.”

I don’t bother pointing out that the only fire we’d be taking is from other dragons, which is a problem that doesn’t exist, since gryphons are all beak and claw. Instead, I find the straps for my thighs and buckle in.

“This is ingenious,” I say to Xaden.

“Let me know if it needs modifications after we win today.” Arrogant ass.

We’re airborne moments later, Andarna keeping up and staying tucked close to Tairn just like we’ve practiced.

Our mission is to keep the flag out of enemy hands, so we skirt the perimeter of the hundred-mile battlefield that encompasses most of the central range while the other squads handle reconnaissance and retrieval.

About an hour into the afternoon, I’m wondering if this assignment is actually meant as punishment for Dain and not an honor. The twelve of us are split into two tight formations of six, seven when taking Andarna into account. Dain has the flag in his group just ahead of us, and when we reach yet another peak in the range, he splits to the right.

Tairn banks to the left, and my stomach pitches as we sweep down the side of the mountain. The wide straps dig into my thighs, holding me firmly in place, and my heart thunders as pure exhilaration hits as hard as the rush of wind against my face and goggles as we dive, and dive, and dive.

And for the first time, there’s no fear that I’ll tumble off his back. Slowly, I unclench my hands from the pommels and a heartbeat later, my hands are above my head as we plummet toward the valley below.

I’ve lived twenty years and never felt as alive as I do in this moment. Without even grounding in my Archives, power surges in my veins, crackling with a life all its own, jolting every single one of my senses to a degree that nears pain.

Tairn flares his wings, catching air and pulling out of the dive.

“You’re going to have to work on those shoulder muscles, Silver One.

We’ll practice this week.”

Leaning as far as I can out of the saddle, I see Andarna clutched in Tairn’s claw as we level out in a glide along the valley floor.

“Thanks! I’ve got it now,” Andarna says, and Tairn lets her free.

Power rattles my bones, as if it’s looking for a way out, and I force myself upright. It’s different than usual…like instead of standing ready to be molded by my hands, it wants to mold me.

A moment of fear skitters along my spine. What if the backlash of power from not manifesting a signet has chosen today to finally release? I shake my head. I do not have time to worry about what might happen-not in the middle of the War Games. My power is just feeling free because I’m finally not so focused on falling out of my seat. That’s all it is.

Sitting tall in the saddle, I sweep my unsteady gaze along the landscape as Tairn begins to climb again, and my heart stutters. Up high on the western ridgeline is a gray tower that almost blends in to the cliffside. I would have missed it if not for the-

“Is that what I think it is?” Fear only feeds the uncontrollable energy prickling my skin.

Tairn’s head is already turned in that direction. “Dragons.”

I glance over my shoulder toward Liam and Rhiannon and see that Tairn must have relayed the message, because we break formation, scattering as three dragons launch from the cliff above us, diving in different directions.

We’ve given them multiple targets, but now we’ll face them one-on-one.

A hail of ice pellets strikes my skin, bouncing off Tairn’s scales, but he’s forced to tuck his wings in tight to avoid damage.

My stomach launches into my throat as we free-fall, the valley floor rising up at us at an alarming rate. Heat and energy threaten to devour every inch of my body, and even my eyes feel like they’re on fire. Oh fuck, my signet is going to backlash against me during the games.

“Ground now!” Tairn roars.

I slam my eyes shut, throwing both mental feet onto the marble floor of the Archives and throwing up the walls around me, only leaving entrances for Tairn’s torrent of power, Andarna, and access to Xaden, and I immediately feel more in control.

When I open my eyes, we’re ascending, Tairn’s wings beating with so much force that I slide back in the saddle with every push.

He’s left the ice-wielding First Wing cadet in a dive behind us, and I cringe as the dragon barely controls the descent, banking in the opposite direction we’re headed.

“That’s where they’re guarding the egg.” It has to be, considering another three dragons have taken the place of the others at the edge of the cliff, ready to launch.

“Agreed. Hold tight.” Tairn barely has a second to shout before a dragon flies out of the valley to the right and blasts a stream of fire at us.

“Tairn!” I scream, watching in horror as the flames barrel toward us.

Tairn banks, taking the blast straight to his belly, shielding me from all but the sizzling heat that blazes by.

What the actual fuck?

“Andarna?” If something happens to her because First Wing is out for blood…

“Fireproof, remember?”

I let out a shaky breath. One worry down, but the other dragon is on our heels, opening its mouth and curling its tongue.

Tairn jerks and his tail swings, catching the offending dragon in the side, just below its wing. The other dragon roars, falling sideways, losing altitude at an alarming rate.

But I don’t focus on the descent. Instead, I use the time to scan the mountainside for the outpost I spied earlier. My heartbeat quickens as I spot it peeking out from a ridge, only one remaining dragon guarding it.

“Xaden! The egg is here!” I relay.

“Already on my way. We’re twenty miles out.” The edge of panic lacing his tone puts a knot of fear in my throat, which only grows when I see Deigh and Liam locked in battle above us with a familiar Orange Scorpiontail-Baide.


“We have to help Liam.”

“On it.” Tairn accelerates and Andarna falls away. Once I see her tuck into the mountainside where she’ll be safe, I hunker down on Tairn’s neck, giving him less wind resistance to fight as we climb faster than ever before. Wind yanks at the halo braid of my hair, the loosened strands whipping at my face as I keep my eyes locked on Deigh and Liam.

Baide snaps her tail at Deigh, the venomous bulb perilously close to Deigh’s throat.

“His scales are thicker than you think. It’s Liam who’s in danger,” Tairn warns, climbing higher.

We’re almost there when Jack unsheathes his sword and jumps from Baide’s back to Deigh’s, catching Liam by surprise as the dragons grapple close to the tower we’re approaching at breakneck speed.

There’s barely time for Liam to gain his feet before Jack thrusts the sword through his side.

“Liam!” The scream tears from my throat as Jack kicks his boot into Liam’s stomach, forcing Liam’s body off the blade…and Deigh.

No. No. No.

Liam falls, his arms flailing as he plummets ahead of us.

“Catch him!” I demand, afraid we won’t make it.

Deigh and Baide collide with the tower, and I glimpse Jack rolling to safety on the highest turret, his sadistic grin wide enough to see from here as Tairn changes course with a dramatic right roll.

Only the leather straps across my thighs keep me seated as we chase Liam’s tumbling body, Tairn’s wings tucked in tight, but the outcroppings are too close, and we’re too high.

No. My throat closes. I refuse to lose him. Not when he’s dedicated so many months of his life to keeping me alive. Failing isn’t an option. It’s just…not.

“Andarna?” I cry, already throwing open the window in my mind to where her glittering gift lies in wait.

“Do it,” she answers. “Focus on everything except you and Tairn!” She’s right. There’s no point in me catching up to Liam if Tairn is frozen.

“Do it!”

I reach for the golden power and my back arches as it barrels down my spine, flooding through my fingers and toes, enveloping every cell in my body before blasting outward in a shock wave that passes over Tairn.

Suddenly, we’re the only ones moving, plunging through a windless sky toward Liam’s frozen body, mere feet from the rugged outcropping of rocks below.

Heartbeats, that’s all we have. My entire body trembles with the effort to hold it, the power flowing from Andarna ebbing as Tairn extends his wings and claw, snatching Liam’s body from midair and taking out the rocks with the force of his tail as we barely escape death ourselves.

“Got him.”

Time snaps back, wind blasting me in the face as we climb, turning tightly to avoid colliding with the ridgeline.


“Safe.” Her voice is barely a whisper in my head.

Wrath and fury boil my blood as my eyes lock onto the figure on top of that tower. This is the last time this asshole will come after my friends or me.

Feirge appears from below, Rhiannon’s arms outstretched as they rise beneath us. Tairn slows just enough to transfer Liam to her. He’s alive-he has to be. It’s the only outcome I’ll accept.

In my peripherals, I see Cath and other dragons arrive from the north just as another squad launches from the cliff above.

Baide is airborne behind us, racing toward her asshole of a rider, who is still gloating on the top of that fucking tower.

“Climb!” I order, unsheathing a blade at my ribs and leaving one hand free to unsnap the buckles when it’s time.

“You will not unseat yourself!” Tairn bellows at me as we surge forward, leaving the smaller orange dragon behind us. He swivels his head left, blasting a stream of fire toward the line of First Wing dragons to warn them off and succeeding as we barrel past.

A growing power sizzles in my chest as I lock my gaze on Jack. I can see the sick pleasure on his face as we fly closer, the blood that drips from his sword. Liam’s blood.

An enormous dragon appears on the horizon. I don’t need to look or even open my feelings to know it’s Xaden, but I can’t spare a moment for him. Tairn is climbing faster than we’ve ever climbed, and power is racing along my skin, scorching my blood.

If this is it, if my power is backlashing, then I’ll be damned if I don’t take that asshole with me. Tairn is fireproof-but not Jack.

“Faster!” I shout, my voice desperate with worry we won’t make it in time.

Tairn charges the tower, his wings beating faster and faster, and I instinctually throw my hands forward, as though I can project all this power lashing within me toward the enemy who just tried to kill my friend, who has done his best to kill me at every opportunity.

That sizzle of magic grows to a lethal, swirling vortex of energy, and though my feet are still firmly grounded, the power rises to a breaking point and the roof of my Archives disintegrates. Power crackles above me, swirls around me, wraps along my feet below me.

I am the sky and the power of every storm that has ever been.

I am infinite.

A scream rips from my throat just as lightning splits the sky with a terrifying crack of thunder.

The bluish streak of silver death slams into the tower, and sparks flare as it explodes in a blast of stone. Tairn banks to avoid the blast, and I pivot in the saddle.

Jack falls down the mountainside in an avalanche of rock that I know he can’t survive.

From the way Baide cries beneath us, she knows it, too.

My hand trembles as I sheathe the clean dagger at my ribs. The only blood to be found is on the rocks below, though I look at my hands as though they should be covered in death.

Tairn roars with the unmistakable sound of pride.

“Lightning wielder.”

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