Chapter no 33

Fourth Wing (The Empyrean Book 1)

I’ve never gotten dressed so fast in my entire life, and I’m not even bothering with the thigh sheaths. “What time is it?” I ask Xaden, pulling on my formal dress and slippers and blowing my hair out of my face.

Mandatory, urgent formation for the entire quadrant means now.

The wards are falling. How many Navarrians are we going to lose?

“Four fifteen.” He finishes lacing his boots, already armed to the teeth as I’m picking up my sheaths, pretty sure I’m missing one of them. “You’re going to freeze out there.”

“I’ll be fine.” I drop to my knees and locate the missing dagger, hauling it out by the strap of the sheath before standing again.

“Here.” Xaden throws one of his flight jackets over me, trapping my hair. “If Garrick’s right and we’re under attack, then my guess is they’ll order the older years to staff the mid-guard posts, so you shouldn’t be out in

formation too long. I can’t stand the thought of you being cold.” Which means he’ll be leaving.

My heart somersaults as I clumsily shove my arms through the sleeves of his jacket. He’ll be safe, right? It will just be a midland assignment, and he’s the most powerful rider in the quadrant.

With my hands full of weapons, I don’t argue about him buttoning the flight jacket over my chest.

“We have to get to formation.” His hands cradle my face. “And if I have to go, then don’t worry. I’m sure Sgaeyl will drag me back in a few days.” He leans in and kisses me hard and quick. “Wanting you will be the death of me. Let’s go.”

The best thing about a war college in complete and utter chaos? No one notices when I slip out of my wingleader’s room and into the sea of riders, all tugging on their own clothes to get to formation. Everyone is running on adrenaline, too busy getting their shit together to notice what I’m doing or the brief touch of Xaden’s hand against mine before he heads toward leadership gathered near the dais in the courtyard.

I’m not the only one still in my dress uniform, either.

The wind has a bite to it as I make it into formation, but at least Xaden’s flight jacket keeps my hair tucked away.

“This had better be good, because I was finally taking my shot with that gorgeous brunette healer,” Ridoc whines as he steps into formation behind me.

Liam stands to my right, still buttoning the top on his uniform.

“Good night?” I ask Liam.

“Fine,” he mutters, his cheeks turning pink in the moonlight.

“Anyone seen Dain?” I ask Nadine as she steps into formation ahead of me.

“All the squad leaders are with leadership,” she answers over her shoulder as Rhiannon jogs up.

Rhi cracks a huge yawn, then glances my way and does a double-take.

“Violet Sorrengail,” she whispers, moving closer. “Are you wearing

Riorson’s flight jacket?”

Liam’s head snaps in my direction, curse his stupidly good hearing.

“Why would you say that?” I do a shitty job of feigning shock and shove the sheaths into every available pocket in this thing. All three of them, which are considerably deeper than the ones in my own jacket.

“Oh, I don’t know. Because it’s huge on you and there are three stars right here?” She taps where there’s only one star on her uniform.

Well, shit. Just goes to show that neither of us was thinking clearly.

“It could be any third-year’s.” I shrug.

“With a Fourth Wing shield on the shoulder?” She cocks an eyebrow.

“That does limit it a bit,” I agree.

“And a wingleader emblem beneath those stars?” she teases.

“Fine, it’s his,” I whisper quickly as Commandant Panchek takes the dais, followed by Dain’s father and the wingleaders. Xaden’s damn good at keeping his eyes off me, but I can’t say the same, especially when there’s little doubt he’s about to be sent away and I can still feel his mouth on my skin.

“I knew it!” Rhi grins. “Tell me it’s good.” “I broke his window.” I wince and my cheeks heat.

“Like…you threw something at it?” Her brow knits.

“No. As in, lightning struck…a lot, and I shattered his window.” I glance toward the dais. “And look, there he is now, all calm, cool, and collected.” My chest tightens as I wonder which is the real version of him? The one standing up there, in complete control, ready to command his wing? Or the one I had inside me less than a half hour ago? The one who declared that he doesn’t deserve me but is going to keep me?

Xaden looks anything but pleased, and his gaze locks with mine for a millisecond. “Fucking War Games.”

Relief and disbelief hit me in equal measure.

“You’re kidding me.” We got hauled out of bed for War Games? “Nope.”

“Damn.” Rhiannon grins. “I wish someone made me shatter windows.”

I turn toward her, rolling my eyes. “Oh please, you’ve had way more-”

“Hey, Aetos,” Rhiannon says, leaning on my shoulder and quickly draping her hand over my collarbone to hide Xaden’s insignia and rank. “Good morning, huh?”

Dain looks at Rhiannon like she’s drunk too much mead as he approaches the squad. “Not really, no.” He glances over the rest of us. “I know it’s early…or late, depending on your night, but we’ve spent all year training for this, so wake the hell up.” He turns to face the dais as Panchek takes the podium.

“Thanks,” I whisper to Rhiannon as she stands back at my side. I’m not up for listening to Dain lecture me about my choices. Not tonight.

“Riders Quadrant!” Panchek shouts, his voice carrying across the courtyard. “Welcome to the last event of this year’s War Games.” A murmur rips through the formation.

“The alert that was sounded is similar to what it would have been if this were a real-life attack-to see how fast you would muster-and we will continue this exercise as if it is. Were the borders to be simultaneously attacked, and the wards faltering, you would all be called into service to reinforce the wings. Colonel Aetos, would you do us the honor of reading the scenario?”

Dain’s dad steps forward, scroll in hand, and begins to read. “The moment we’ve dreaded has arrived. The wards we’ve dedicated our lives to upholding are falling, and there has been an unprecedented, multilevel attack along our borders, putting villages under siege from drifts of gryphon riders. Mass casualties among civilians and infantry are already being reported, as are the deaths of multiple riders.” He’s laying on the melodrama pretty thick.

“As we would if you were a battle-ready force, we are sending your wings in every direction,” he continues, focusing on each wing until coming to ours. “Fourth Wing to the southeast. Each squad will pick which outpost they will reinforce within that region.” He holds up a finger. “Choices are first come, first served. Wingleaders, however, will be assigned to theirs for the purposes of determining a headquarters for this exercise.”

He turns to each wingleader, giving out orders, but glances in our direction-no doubt looking for Dain-before he turns toward Xaden. Something about the way his smile slips for a heartbeat makes the hair rise on the back of my neck.

“Riorson, you’ll establish your headquarters for Fourth Wing at Athebyne. Wingleaders, assemble your headquarters squads at your own discretion, pulling from any and all riders within your wings. Consider this a test of leadership, as there are no limitations in a real-world scenario. You will receive the updated orders once you reach your selected outposts for this five-day exercise.” He steps back.

Athebyne? That’s beyond the wards…that’s where Xaden flew his secretive mission. My gaze seeks out his, but he’s focused on the colonel.

“Five whole days? This is going to be so much fun,” Heaton exclaims with terrifying glee, running their hand over the purple flames dyed into their hair. “We’re going to pretend war.”

“Yeah,” Imogen adds quietly. “I think we are.”

“Just like real life, you squad leaders need to make your choices quickly, then report to the flight field within thirty minutes,” Panchek decrees. “You’re dismissed.”


“Already moving.”

“We’re going to claim the outpost at Eltuval, the northernmost one in our assigned region,” Dain says, turning around to face us as Rhiannon leans over my shoulder again, blocking Xaden’s insignia. “I’m not getting stuck at some coastal outpost when we know that’s not how Poromiel would

choose to attack. Anyone have a problem with that?” We all shake our heads.

“Good, then you heard the commandant. You have thirty minutes to change, pack what you can carry for five days, and get your asses to the flight field.”

Formation breaks and we all scurry to our dormitory rooms.

“What do you think our orders will be when we get there?” Rhiannon asks as we force our way through the bottleneck of cadets all trying to get into the barracks. “More eggs to hunt?”

“Guess we’re about to find out.”

It takes ten minutes to wrap my knees and support my shoulders for a long flight, then dress in my own flight leathers. It takes another five minutes to detangle my hair from Xaden’s handling and braid it, which leaves me exactly five to pack. I throw Xaden’s jacket in my rucksack just in case anyone snoops through my room while I’m gone.

“Wear every single dagger you own,” Xaden demands, startling me.

“I’m already wearing twelve.” I continue throwing items into my overnight pack.


“I’ll see you on the flight field, right?” If he leaves without saying goodbye, I’m going to track him down and kill him myself.

“Yes.” His reply is curt, but I finish packing and head out, meeting Rhiannon and Liam in the hallway.

A buzz of excitement accompanies the crowd as we make our way to the flight field, taking rations the kitchen staff hands out near commons on our way. No doubt we’ll be eating breakfast midflight.

When we arrive, it takes me a second to absorb the sight. Every dragon from the quadrant fills the field, standing in the same formation we keep in the courtyard, and hundreds of mage lights float overhead like hovering stars, giving the space an otherworldly feel, as though we’re in a great hall instead of on the flight field. It’s beautiful and menacing at the same time.

There’s a nervous mix of energy and anticipation and more than one person hurling up whatever they’ve had to drink as the field floods with riders.

“We’re going to win,” Rhiannon states as we make our way through the wings amid way too many snarling dragons and snapping teeth. We’re not the only ones anxious tonight. “We’re the best. We’ll win.” Her face is set in lines of determination. “I can almost taste that squad leader designation for next year.”

“You’ll get it,” I tell her, then turn toward Liam as we approach our section. “What about you? Want to distinguish yourself with glory so you can rise to squad leader?” He’s a shoo-in with his hand-to-hand skills and stellar marks in classes.

“We’ll see.” He’s unusually tense as we keep walking.

We make it to our dragons, and I can’t help but notice that Tairn is standing in what should be Cath’s spot, forcing Dain’s dragon to the side as Dain does a head count. My egotistical dragon is already saddled with Andarna under his wing.

Shit. They’re going to force Andarna to keep up with us.

“And if we take enemy fire, then you find the first available cover and hide just like last scenario. You’re too shiny for your own good,” Tairn tells her.

“All right.”

“What are you wearing?” I ask Andarna, who struts out from under Tairn’s wing with her head held high, boasting a contraption that reminds me of a saddle but isn’t.

“The wingleader had it made for me. See? It hooks to Tairn’s.”

I can’t help but smile as I see the shape of the triangle on Andarna’s back that I’m sure fits the one on Tairn’s chest. “It’s amazing.” “It’s just in case I can’t keep up. Now I can come along!” Just another reason to adore Xaden.

“Well, I love it.” I turn to Tairn, who’s busy snapping at Cath to give him more room. “Need me to attach anything?”

“I have it handled.”

“I’m sure you do.” Then it hits me. Five days. Damn. “Are you going to be all right if you’re separ-”

“Second Squad!” Dain calls out. “Prepare for a four-hour first leg of our flight. We’ll need to keep a tight formation for the first fifteen minutes as the squads disperse.” He glances my way, then over my shoulder. “Wingleader?”

I pivot and see Xaden striding our way, the hilts of two swords strapped to his back rising above his shoulders, and my throat closes. How am I supposed to say goodbye to him in front of all these people? And worse, how are our dragons going to cope?

“Don’t worry, Silver One,” Tairn interjects, his tone resolved.

“Everything is as it should be.”

“How can I help you?” Dain bites out, his shoulders straightening.

“I need you,” Xaden says to me.

“I’m sorry?” Dain retorts before I can even nod.

“Relax, he just wants to say goodbye,” I explain.

“If you’re saying goodbye, it’s to him,” Xaden corrects, nodding at Dain. “I’m constructing my headquarters squad and you’re coming with me. So are Liam and Imogen.”

My jaw unhinges. I’m what?

“The fuck you are,” Dain barks, stepping forward. “She’s a first-year, and Athebyne is beyond the wards.”

Xaden blinks. “I don’t hear you giving me the same argument about Mairi.”

I look over my shoulder, and sure enough, Liam stands with his chin raised in front of Deigh. It’s almost as if he expected this.

“What is going on?” I ask Xaden.

“Liam is the best cadet among the first-years, even with you assigning him guard duty over Violet,” Dain argues, folding his arms across his chest.

“And Sorrengail wields lightning,” Xaden counters, taking a step closer so his arm brushes my shoulder. “And not that I owe you an explanation, second-year, because I don’t, but Sgaeyl and Tairn can’t be separated for longer than a few days-”

Of course. Now it makes sense.

“That you know of!” Dain exclaims. “Or can you honestly tell me Sgaeyl was at her wit’s end when you showed up at Montserrat? You’ve never fully tested how long they can be apart.”

“Feel like asking her yourself?” Xaden quips, arching a brow.

A low growl rumbles as Sgaeyl stalks forward, menace gleaming in her eyes. My heart launches into my throat on Dain’s behalf. It doesn’t matter how often I’m around her-there’s always a part of me that sees her as the death sentence she is.

“Don’t do this. Riders are known to die during War Games, and she’s safer with me,” Dain argues. “Anything could happen once we’re away from Basgiath, let alone you taking her beyond the wards.”

“I’m not dignifying that with a response. This is an order.”

Dain’s eyes narrow. “Or has this been your plan all along? To separate her from her squad so you can use her to get your need for revenge on her mother?”

“Dain!” I shake my head at him. “You know that’s not going to happen.”

“Do I?” he fires back. “He’s made a big deal out of the whole if-she-diesI-die thing, but do you know it for a fact? Do you know Tairn won’t survive

your death? Or has it all been a ploy to earn your trust, Violet?”

I suck in a sharp breath. “You need to stop right now.”

“Please, do quit while you’re behind, Aetos,” Xaden seethes. “You want the truth? She’s a fuck of a lot safer with me beyond the wards than she is with you within them. We both know it.” The look in his eyes is similar to the one in Sgaeyl’s, and it dawns on me why she chose him. They’re both ruthless, both willing to annihilate whatever stands between them and what they want.

And Dain is in Xaden’s path.

“Stop.” I put my hand on Xaden’s arm. “Xaden, stop. If you want me to go with you, I’ll go. It’s that simple.”

His gaze shifts to meet mine and immediately softens.

“No fucking way,” Dain whispers, but it reverberates in my bones like a lightning strike.

I pivot, dropping my hand from Xaden’s arm, but it’s obvious by Dain’s expression that he now knows there’s something between Xaden and me- and he’s hurt. My stomach hits the ground. “Dain…”

“Him?” Dain’s eyes widen and his face flushes. “You and…him?” He shakes his head. “People talk, and I thought that’s all it was, but you…” Disappointment drops his shoulders. “Don’t go, Violet. Please. He’s going to get you killed.”

“I know you think Xaden has ulterior motives, but I trust him. He’s had every opportunity and has never hurt me.” I move toward Dain. “At some point, you have to let this go.”

Dain looks horrified for a second but quickly masks it. “If he’s what you choose…” He sighs. “Then I guess that has to be enough for me, doesn’t it?”

“Yes.” I nod. Thank gods all this nonsense is about to be past us.

He swallows hard and leans in to whisper, “I’ll miss you, Violet.” Then he pivots on his heel and heads for Cath.

“Thank you for trusting me,” Xaden says as I reach Tairn’s foreleg.


“We have to ride.”

He pauses, like he’s going to say more, but turns away instead. As he heads back to Sgaeyl, I can’t help but note both of the important men are walking away from me right now, in opposite directions, and given the one I’ve chosen to follow, my life is about to change forever.

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