Chapter no 29

Fourth Wing (The Empyrean Book 1)

We land in the flight field what feels like minutes later. Or maybe it’s been a lifetime. I’m not sure.

The ground shakes as dragons arrive to the left and right, the field quickly filling with celebrating riders from Fourth Wing and angry ones from First. The dragons take off as soon as their riders dismount, with the exception of Andarna, who waits between Tairn’s forelegs as I fumble with the buckles.

Jack is dead.

I killed him.

I’m the reason his parents will get a letter, the reason his name will be etched into stone.

Across the field, Garrick lifts the crystal egg above his head as Dain waves the flag, and those in Fourth Wing cheer, rushing toward the pair like they’re gods.

Tairn’s weight shifts beneath me as the last buckle slips through my fingers, and I slide out of the saddle. My head swims, stress no doubt bringing on the dizzy spell that makes it hard to keep my balance as I make my way to his shoulder and dismount.

I stumble in the mud, hitting my knees when I reach where Andarna lies between Tairn’s forelegs, clearly exhausted.

“Tell me Liam is alive. Tell me it was worth it.”

“Deigh says that he lives. The sword went through his side,” Tairn says. “Good. Good. That’s good. Thank you, Andarna. I know how much that cost you.” I look up into her golden eyes, and she blinks slowly back.

“Worth it.”

Nausea holds me in its grip, and my mouth waters. Killed him. I killed him.

“Damn, Sorrengail!” Sawyer calls out. “Lightning? You’ve been holding out on us!”

Lightning I used to take a life.

My stomach heaves and a dark shadow envelops me, but it’s not Xaden. Tairn has folded his wings over us, closing out the world while I retch up everything I’ve eaten today.

“You did what was necessary,” Tairn says, but it doesn’t stop my stomach from clenching and tightening again, trying its best to force up what’s not even there.

“You saved your friend,” Andarna adds.

Finally, my stomach settles, and I force myself to my feet, dragging the back of my hand over my mouth. “You need to get some rest, don’t you?”

“I’m proud you’re mine.” Andarna’s voice wavers, the blinks of her eyes becoming slower. “Even if I need a bath.”

Tairn draws back his wings, and Andarna walks forward, then launches into the sky with steady wingbeats toward the Vale.

I stare up at the saddle. I need to get him out of this so he can rest, too. But all I can think is that I finally have a signet, a real, true signet, and the first thing I did with it was kill a man.

“Violet?” Dain appears on my left. “That was you with the lightning strike? The one that took down the tower?” The one that killed Jack.

I nod, thinking of all the times I aimed for the shoulder instead of the heart. The poisons I used to incapacitate, not murder. I left Oren unconscious on the ground at Threshing and didn’t even go for the throat when he invaded my room.

All because I didn’t want to be a killer.

“I’ve never seen anything like it. I don’t think there’s been a lightning wielder in more than a century-” He pauses. “Violet?”

“I killed him,” I whisper, studying the central chest plate of the saddle. That has to be where everything connects, right? He has to get out of this thing somehow.

Mom will be so proud to know I’m just like the others now. Just like her. My empty belly turns over again, and I retch like my body is trying to expel the guilt.

“Shit.” He rubs his hand over my back. “It’s all right, Vi.”

It stops sooner this time, and Dain pulls me against his chest, rocking gently as his hand makes soothing motions up and down my spine.

“I killed him.” Why the hell is that all I can say? I’m a broken music box, repeating the same melody over and over, and everyone can see me. Everyone knows I can’t handle the consequences of my own signet.

“I know. I know.” He presses a kiss to the top of my head. “And if you don’t want to use that kind of power again, you don’t have to-”

“Get the fuck away from her with that nonsense.” Xaden pushes Dain’s chest and tugs me out of his arms, then grips my shoulders, turning me to face him. “You killed Barlowe.” I nod.

“Lightning. Your signet is lightning, isn’t it?” He looks at me with such intensity, as though my answer is the key to whatever he needs.


His jaw flexes and his head bobs once. “I thought so, but I wasn’t sure until I saw you take that tower down.”

He thought so? What the hell does that even mean?

“Listen to me, Sorrengail.” He lifts one hand to stroke loose tendrils of hair behind my ear, his touch surprisingly gentle. “The world is a better place without Barlowe in it. We both know that. Do I wish I’d been the one to end his miserable life? Absolutely. But what you did will save countless others. He was nothing more than a bully and was only going to get worse as he grew more powerful. His dragon will choose another rider when she’s ready. I’m glad he’s dead. I am glad you killed him.”

“I didn’t mean to.” It’s barely a whisper. “I was just so fucking mad, and we’d just caught Liam. I thought my relic was backlashing finally.” My eyes widen. “It was close, Xaden. It was too close. I had to do something.”

“Whatever you did is what kept him alive.” His thumb strokes over my cheek, the motion completely at odds with his tone, and his eyes flare just enough that I know he’s aware of what I did.

“I don’t want this,” I blurt. “Rhiannon can move objects through space, and Dain has retrocognition-” “Hey,” Dain snaps.

“You think I didn’t know that already?” Xaden barks over his shoulder.

“Kaori can bring his imagination to life, and Sawyer can bend metal. Mira can extend the wards. Everyone has a signet that isn’t just useful for battle. They’re tools for good in the world. And what the hell am I, Xaden? I’m a fucking weapon.”

“You don’t have to use your power, Vi,” Dain starts, his voice soft and comforting.

“Stop. Fucking. Coddling. Her.” Xaden bites out every word at Dain. “She is not a child. She’s a full-grown woman. A rider. Start treating her like one and at least have the decency to give her the truth. You think Melgren or any other general-to include her own mother-is going to let her sit on a power like this? It’s not like she can hide it, not the way she just demolished one of the practice forts.”

“You just want her to be like you,” Dain argues. “A cold-blooded killer.

Soon you’ll be telling her that it’s all right, you get used to the killing.” I inhale a sharp breath.

Xaden nails him with a glare. “The blood in my veins is as warm as yours, Aetos, and if it’s my job you want next year, then you’d better start understanding that you never get used to killing, but you do understand that it’s necessary.” He turns back to me, his dark gaze boring into mine. “This isn’t primary school. This is war-and you heard me say it once before, but the ugly truth those not on the front lines choose to forget is there are always body bags in war.”

I start to shake my head, but his eyes narrow on mine. “You might not like it, might even loathe it, but it’s power like yours that saves lives.”

“By killing people?” I cry. If Sgaeyl is right, and signets reflect who we are at our core, then I’m exactly as Xaden nicknamed me…Violence.

“By defeating invading armies before they get the chance to hurt civilians. You want to keep Rhiannon’s nephew alive in that little border village? This is how. You want to keep Mira alive when she’s behind enemy lines? This. Is. How. You are not just a weapon, Sorrengail. You are the weapon. You train this ability, own it, and you’ll have the power to defend an entire kingdom.” He smooths back more wind-loosened tendrils of my hair behind my ears, clearing my vision so I have no excuse but to see the honesty in his eyes. When he’s sure I’m not going to argue further, he looks to his side. “Rhiannon, can you get her back to the citadel?” “Absolutely.” Rhiannon hustles over.

Dain scoffs and walks toward the other squad leaders, leaving us.

“The saddle-” I start.

“Tairn can get it off himself. It was one of his many design stipulations.” Xaden turns to leave but pauses. “Thank you for saving Liam. He’s important to me.”

“You don’t have to thank…” I sigh at his back. “And he’s already gone.”

“You two have the weirdest relationship,” Rhiannon says, linking her arm with mine.

“We’re not in a relationship.” I look up at Tairn, who’s surprisingly held his tongue through whatever that was with Xaden and Dain.

“Go,” Tairn urges. “But do not wallow in guilt, Silver One. Whatever you feel is natural. Allow yourself to feel it but then let it go. The wingleader made a valid point. With a signet like that, you are the best hope the kingdom has against the hordes of evil that seek to harm it. Rest and I will see you tomorrow. I’ll get my own saddle off.”

“You’re most definitely in a relationship,” Rhiannon continues, tugging me off the field. “I just can’t figure out if it’s the opposites-attract partnership that has you two baring claws or the slow, lethal burn of scalding sexual tension.” She glances sideways at me. “Now tell me how the hell you two moved that fast out there.”

“What do you mean?”

“When Liam was falling, Feirge and I flew as fast as we could, but I knew we’d be too slow given our angle and speed, and I thought you…” She shakes her head. “It just looked like you were high above him one second and had him in the next. I’ve never seen a dragon fly that fast. It’s like I blinked and missed it.”

Now guilt bites into me for a whole other reason. Rhiannon is my friend, my closest one here, if I’m being honest about what Dain and I have become. Of everyone, she should know-

“Do not feel guilt that you cannot tell her. This secret belongs to dragonkind, not you,” Tairn warns. “No one has the right to risk our hatchlings. Not even you, Silver One.”

“Tairn is really fast,” I say in way of explanation. It’s not a lie, but it isn’t the full truth, either.

“And thank gods for it. Zihnal must really love Liam, cheating death twice today.”

But it wasn’t Liam who cheated death.

It was me.

And I can’t help but wonder if somewhere, on some plane of existence, Malek sits on his throne, angry that I stole a soul from his grasp.

But then again, I gave him Jack’s.

Of course, it might have broken mine forever.

The wooden target in my room wobbles as one of my daggers sinks into the wood beside the last one I threw. I might be angry with the world, but at least my aim isn’t off. If I miss, there’s a good chance the blade is flying out the window, considering where I have the target propped up on the wall.

I throw three more, rapid-fire, and hit the throat of the person-shaped target every single time.

What’s the point of going for shoulders anymore if I’m already taking people out with bolts of lightning? What was my restraint for? With a flick of my wrist, I send the next dagger soaring, putting it straight through the figure’s forehead just as there’s a knock at my door.

It’s either Rhiannon asking for the tenth time if I want to talk about what happened today or it’s Liam-

I pause. It can’t be Liam, checking to see if I’m actually turned in for the night, because Liam is still in the infirmary, healing from the sword he took to the side.

“Come in.” Who cares if I’m in nothing but my dressing gown? It’s not like I can’t strike an intruder dead with a knife. Or lightning.

The door opens beside me, but I don’t bother looking as I throw another dagger. That height? That hint of dark hair I catch in my peripheral vision? That incredible scent? I don’t even need to look fully-my body tells me it’s Xaden.

Then my body reminds me exactly what it feels like to have his mouth on mine, and my stomach flutters. Shit, I’m too on edge to deal with him or the way he makes me feel tonight.

“Imagining that’s me?” he asks, shutting my door and leaning back against it, folding his arms across his chest. Then he does a double-take, his heated gaze roaming over my body.

Suddenly, the spring breeze coming through the open window isn’t enough to cool my skin, not when he’s looking at me like that.

My long braid swings across my back as I take another dagger off my dresser. “No. But it was you about twenty minutes ago.”

“Who is it now?” He raises a brow, crosses one ankle over the other.

“No one you know.” With a flick of my wrist, the next blade goes through the sternum. “Why are you here?” I glance his way just long enough to note that he’s bathed and wearing our standard uniform instead of flight leathers, and definitely not long enough to note how fucking good he looks. Just once, I’d love to see him disheveled or unnerved, anything outside that calm control he wears like armor. “Let me guess. Since Liam is out of commission, it’s your duty to lecture me about sleeping in plain cotton.”

“I didn’t come to lecture you,” he says softly, and I can feel the warmth of his gaze like a caress as it rakes over the thin black straps of my dressing gown. “But I can definitely see that you’re not wearing your armor.”

“No one is going to be ridiculous enough to attack me now.” I take another dagger from the dresser, my pile dwindling. “Not when I can kill them from fifty yards away.” Tapping the end of the razor-sharp weapon, I pivot slightly, just enough to face him. “Do you think it works inside? I mean, how does someone wield lightning if there’s no sky?” Keeping my eyes locked on his, I fling the dagger at the target. The satisfying sound of split wood tells me I hit true.

“Fuck, that’s hotter than it should be.” He pulls in a deep breath. “I think that’s something you’ll have to figure out.” His gaze drops to my mouth and his arms tense.

“You’re not going to step in and say you can train me? You can save me?” I click my tongue and have the absolutely ridiculous urge to run it up the lines of the relic on his neck, tracing the intricate pattern. “How very un-Xaden of you.”

“I have no clue how to train a lightning wielder, and from what I witnessed today, you don’t need saving.” There’s pure longing in his eyes as he scans the length of my body from my bare toes to the hemline that skirts my thighs, over my breasts to my neck, finally reaching my eyes.

“Only from myself,” I mutter. The things I think about doing to him when he looks at me like that would surely ruin me, and tonight I’m not sure I care. That’s a dangerous combination. “So then why are you here, Xaden?”

“Because I can’t seem to stay away.” He sounds anything but pleased by the admission, but my breath catches anyway.

“Shouldn’t you be out there celebrating?” Everyone else is.

“We won a battle, not a war.” He pushes off the door and takes a single step, closing the distance between us, and lifts my braid from over my shoulder, slowly rubbing his thumb along the strands. “And I figured you might still be upset.”

“You told me to get over myself, remember? So why the fuck would you care if I’m upset?” I fold my arms across my chest, choosing anger over lust.

“I told you that you’d have to develop a stomach for killing. I never said you’d get over it.” He drops my braid.

“I should, though, right?” I shake my head and retreat into the center of the room. “We spend three years here learning how to become killers, promoting and praising those who do it best.”

He doesn’t even flinch, just watches me in that observant, infuriatingly calm way of his.

“I’m not mad that Jack is dead. We both know he’s wanted to kill me since Parapet, and eventually he would have. I’m mad that him dying changes me.” I tap my chest right above my heart. “Dain told me that this place strips away the niceties to reveal who someone really is.”

“Not going to argue there.” He watches me as I begin to pace.

“And I just keep thinking that when I was younger, I asked my dad what would happen if I wanted to be a rider like Mom or Brennan, and he told me that I wasn’t like them. That my path was different, except this place has peeled away my civility, my niceties, and it turns out my power is more destructive than any of theirs.” I stop right in front of him and hold up my hands. “And it’s not like I can blame this power on Tairn, not that I would. Signets are based on the rider, just fueled by the dragon, which means this has always been there under the surface, just waiting to be unleashed. And to think-” A knot forms in my throat. “All this time, I had this tiny, driving hope that I would be like Brennan, and that would be the twist in my little fable. That my signet would be mending, and I could put all the broken things back together. But instead, I’m made to split them apart. How many people will I kill with this?”

His eyes soften. “As many as you choose. Just because you gained power today doesn’t mean you lost agency.”

“What is wrong with me?” I shake my head, my hands clenching into fists. “Any other rider would be thrilled.” Even now, I feel the power simmering just beneath my skin.

“You’ve never been like any other rider.” He moves closer but doesn’t touch me. “Probably because you never wanted to be here.”

Gods, I want him to touch me, to wipe away the ugliness of the day, to make me feel something‚ anything but this welling shame.

“None of you wanted to be here.” I glance pointedly at the rebellion relic on his neck. “You’re all doing just fine.”

He looks at me, really looks, and it feels like he sees entirely too much. “Most of us would burn this place to the ground if we had the option, but every marked one wants to be here because it’s our only path for survival. It’s not the same for you. You wanted a quiet life full of books and facts. You wanted to record the battles, not be in them. There is nothing wrong with you. You get to be angry that you killed a man today. You get to be angry that man tried to kill your friend. You get to feel however you want within these walls.”

He’s close enough now that I can feel his body heat through the thin cotton of my dressing gown.

“But not outside them.” It’s not a question.

“We’re riders,” he says, as if that’s explanation enough. He takes hold of my hands and brings them to his chest. “So do whatever you need to get it out. You want to yell? Yell at me. You want to hit something? Hit me. I can take it.”

Hitting him is the last thing I want to do, and suddenly, I’m done fighting it.

“Come on,” he whispers. “Show me what you’ve got.” I surge up on my toes and kiss him.

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