Chapter no 34

Fourth Wing (The Empyrean Book 1)

We fly into the morning and then the afternoon, and when Andarna can’t keep up, she hooks on to Tairn’s harness midflight. She’s asleep by the time Xaden chooses to skirt the thousands-foot-high Cliffs of Dralor that give Tyrrendor a geological advantage over every province in the kingdom- over every province on the Continent, really, and go around instead, heading into the mountains north of Athebyne.

There’s a pulling sensation in my chest, then a snap as we cross the barrier of the wards.

“It feels different,” I tell Tairn.

“Without the wards, magic is wilder here. It’s easier for dragons to communicate within the wards. The wingleader will have to take that into account when commanding his wing from this outpost.”

“I’m sure he’s already thought of that.”

It’s nearly one o’clock in the afternoon when we approach Athebyne, stopping, at the orders of the dragons, at a lake closest to the outpost so they can drink. The surface of the lake is smooth as glass, reflecting the jagged peaks in front of us with breathtaking accuracy before the riot lands on the shoreline and sends ripples over the water in tiny shock waves. A thick forest of trees and heavy boulders surround one edge of the water, and nearby grass is trampled, which means we’re not the first riot to rest here.

There are ten dragons in all with us, and though I might not recognize each one of them, I know that Liam and I are the only first-years in the group. Deigh lands beside Tairn, and Liam jumps from his seat like we haven’t just spent seven hours in the sky.

“You both need to drink and probably eat something,” I tell them as I unbuckle from the saddle. My thighs are sore and cramping, but it’s not quite as bad as it was at Montserrat. The extra hours in the saddle this last month have helped.

Tairn pops a talon onto a latch, and Andarna plops to the ground, shaking her head, body, then tail.

“And you need to sleep,” Tairn replies. “You’ve been up all night.”

“I’ll sleep when you do.” Navigating his spikes carefully, I slide down his foreleg to the mossy edge of the shore.

“I can go for days without sleep. I’d rather you not fire off lightning bolts out of sleep deprivation.”

It’s on the tip of my tongue to retort that it takes effort to wield lightning, but after I shattered Xaden’s window last night, I’m not sure I have any expertise on the subject. Or maybe it’s just Xaden who makes me lose control. Either way, I’m dangerous to be around. I’m surprised Carr hasn’t given up on me.

“It’s strange to be beyond the wards,” I say, changing the subject.

Tairn’s talons dig into the soil as Liam approaches, stretching his neck high above his shoulders. From the general agitation of the riot, I wonder if it’s something they all feel, this wrongness in the air that has the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end.

“We’re twenty minutes out from Athebyne, so hydrate! We have no idea what kind of scenario is waiting for us,” Xaden calls out, his voice carrying over the squad.

“You doing all right?” Liam asks, coming my way as Tairn and Andarna both take the few steps they need to access the water.

“Stay with Tairn,” I tell Andarna. She’s a shiny target this far from the protection of the Vale.

“I will.”

Gods, I should have left her at Basgiath. What the hell was I thinking, bringing her out here? She’s just a kid, and this flight has been grueling.

“It was never your choice,” Tairn lectures. “Humans, even bonded ones, do not decide where dragons fly. Even one as young as Andarna knows her own mind.” His words bring little comfort. When push comes to shove, I’m responsible for her safety.

“Violet?” Concern furrows Liam’s brow.

“If I say I’m not sure, will you think less of me?” There are so many ways to answer that question. Physically, I’m sore but fine, but mentally… Well, I’m a mess of anxiety and anticipation for what the War Games will bring. We were warned the quadrant always loses ten percent of the graduating class in the final test, but it’s more than that. I just can’t put my finger on it.

“I’d think you’re being honest.”

I glance to the left and see Xaden deep in conversation with Garrick. Naturally, the section leader made the cut for Xaden’s personal squad.

Xaden looks my way, our eyes locking for a second, and that’s all it takes to remind my body that I had him naked a few hours ago, the lines of his carved muscles straining against my skin. I’m so damned in love with that man. How am I supposed to keep it off my face?

Just be professional. That’s all I have to do. Though the way I’m hyperaware of each and every thing he’s said and done since leaving his bedroom pretty much makes me a walking example of why first-years shouldn’t sleep with their wingleaders, let alone fall in love with them. Good thing he’s only my wingleader for another week or so.

“Keep looking at me like that and we’ll be stopped longer than a half hour,” he warns without looking at me.


His gaze whips my way, and I swear I see him actually smile before turning back toward Garrick.

“You doing all right with whatever is going on there?” Liam asks, startling me.

“And if I tell you I’m not sure?” I give him the same answer, my lips curving.

“I’d think you got yourself in over your head.” The look on his face is anything but teasing now.

“For someone who said he owes Xaden everything, that’s not a glowing recommendation.” I drop my pack to the ground and roll the tense muscles of my shoulders. “Don’t turn into Dain on me.” “You feeling all right?” Xaden asks.

“Fine. Just a little sore.” The last thing I want to be is a burden for him. “It’s not that.” Liam grimaces. “It’s just that I know his priorities.”

“I’m really sorry you got dragged along on my account,” I say quietly so the others won’t hear. “You should be at one of the midland posts with Dain, not being hauled past the wards. Colonel Aetos is a fair man, but I have no doubt this assignment is meant to ‘give the marked wingleader his due.'” I finish the last in a fair imitation of Dain’s dad, and Liam rolls his eyes.

“I’m not scared, no one is hauling me, and believe it or not, Violet, sometimes my orders actually don’t revolve solely around you. I do have other skills, you know,” he teases with a grin, flashing a dimple as he hipchecks me.

“I’ve never once forgotten how amazing you are, Liam.” And I mean it. He coughs, and I gesture him off. “Now, I need a moment of privacy.”

He bows with a wave of a hand, as though introducing me to the forest behind us, and I head off into their shadowy depths.

When I return to the shore of the lake, Xaden walks away from Garrick and holds out his hand as he approaches.

My eyebrows rise. Is he… No. He wouldn’t. Not in front of the eight other cadets.

He laces his fingers with mine. Guess he would. It’s more than the touch of his skin that has my pulse leaping. He’s breaking his own rule.

I glance pointedly toward where the others are gathered, all in various states of relaxation by the shore, but my hand tightens around his.

“None of them is going to say a single word about you-or us. I trust every single person here with my life,” he says, leading me toward a cluster of boulders almost twice his height on the far side of the lake.

“People talk. Let them.” I’m not ashamed of loving him, and I can handle any mean-spirited gossip that comes my way.

“You say that now.” His jaw flexes. “Did you get enough to drink? Or eat?”

“I brought everything I needed in my pack. You don’t have to worry about me.”

“Worrying about you is ninety-nine percent of what I do.” His thumb strokes the back of my hand. “When we make it to the outpost, I want you to rest after we get our scenario objective. Liam will stay while I most likely take the third-years out to patrol.”

“I want to help,” I immediately protest. Wasn’t that why he brought me? For my lightning? Not that I’m exactly winning any accuracy awards, but still.

“You can, after you rest up. You have to be at full strength to wield that signet of yours, or you’ll risk burning out. Tairn is too powerful.” He makes a decent point, but it doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Once we’re out of sight of the others, he backs me against the largest boulder and then lowers into a crouch before me.

“What are you doing?” I run my fingers through his hair just because I can. The fact that I get to touch this man is absolutely mind-blowing, and I plan on taking every advantage of the privilege while I can.

“Your legs are stiff.” He starts at my calves, working the knots loose with his strong hands.

“I guess we can’t really leave until the dragons are ready anyway, right?” His touch feels downright decadent.

“Right. We have another ten minutes or so.” He flashes a wicked grin at me.

Ten minutes. Considering we really have no idea what the rest of the day will bring, I’m more than happy to grab ahold of what time we have.

I groan as my muscles melt and my head falls back to rest on the boulder. “That hurts so wonderfully. Thank you.”

He laughs, making his way up to the tense muscles of my thighs. “Trust me, my motives aren’t altruistic, Violence. I’ll take any excuse I can get to put my hands on you.”

The scruff on his cheeks scrapes my palms as I slide my hands down the sides of his face to cup the back of his neck. “The feeling is more than mutual.”

His breathing changes when he reaches the top of my thighs, his fingers kneading my muscles into outright submission. “I’m sorry about this morning.”


He looks up at me, the sunlight catching the gold specks in his eyes, and arches his scarred brow. “We were in the middle of something, if you don’t remember.”

A slow smile spreads across my face. “Oh, I remember.” The top button of his flight jacket is undone, and I grip the fabric and tug him toward me. At what point is this constant craving for him going to be assuaged? I’ve had him multiple times in the past twenty-four hours and could still go another round…or three. “Is it wrong to wish we’d had time to finish?”

“Not sure I’ll ever be finished.” He rises, every plane of his body caressing mine on the way up. “I’m way too fucking greedy when it comes to you.”

He slants his head over mine and blurs out the rest of the world with a slow, luxurious kiss. His tongue slides between my parted lips to glide against mine like he has absolutely no other plans for the day but to memorize every corner of my mouth.

My entire body flares to life, then starts to simmer when he kisses a path down my throat. He palms my waist, pulling my curves flush with his hard angles, and I’m nothing but heat and need. My heart pounds so hard, it sounds like wingbeats in my ears. Gods, I’ll never get enough of this.

He groans, one hand sliding to my ass. “Tell me what you’re thinking.”

I wind my arms around his neck. “I was thinking you are exactly as I predicted the first time you took me in my room.”

“Oh yeah?” He draws back, curiosity sparking in his eyes. “And what exactly was that?”

“A very dangerous addiction.” My gaze skims over the silver line of his scar, the thick lashes so many women would kill for, and over the bump in his nose to that perfectly sculpted mouth. I’ve already told him that I love him, so it’s not like I’m keeping secrets over here. Hell, compared to him, I’m an open book. “Impossible to sate.”

His eyes darken. “I’m going to keep you,” he promises, just like he did last night. Or was it this morning? “You’re mine, Violet.”

I lift my chin. “Only if you’re mine.”

“I’ve been yours for longer than you could ever imagine.” As if the words untether him, he clutches the nape of my neck and kisses me long and hard, stealing every breath, every thought beyond the sweep of his tongue and the rising tide of need that heats my skin.

Xaden yanks his mouth away with a gasp, breaking the kiss and cocking his head to the side as if listening for something.

“What’s wrong?” I ask. He’s gone rigid beneath my arms.

“Shit.” His eyes widen as he drags his gaze back to mine. “Violet, I’m so sorry-”

“Is this seriously how you dragon riders spend your time?” a woman asks from behind Xaden, her voice like velvet dragged over a gravel road.

He spins around so quickly, he’s a blur. Shadows envelop me, thick as a thundercloud.

I can’t see shit.

“Xaden!” someone yells and multiple pairs of feet come crashing through the brush. Bodhi, maybe?

“Silly to hide what’s already been seen,” the woman says, her tone curt. “And if rumors are true, there’s only one silver-haired rider in your death factory of a college, which means that’s General Sorrengail’s youngest.”

“Fuck,” Xaden swears. “I need you to stay calm, Violence.”

Calm? Shadows fall away, and I leave my hands loose at my sides in case I need to grab a dagger or wield, sidestepping Xaden so I can see.

A pair of gryphon riders stands in the meadow about thirty feet away, their beasts eerily silent behind them. They’re a third of the size of our dragons, but those beaks and claws look capable of shredding skin and scale just the same.



“Stay with Sgaeyl,” I order Andarna.

“The gryphons look tasty from here,” she responds.

“They’re the same size you are. No.”

“A fucking Sorrengail.” The woman looks only a few years older than me, but she has the look of a veteran rider. She arches a dark brow, looking at me like I’m something that needs to be shoveled out of the horse stalls. The sound of beating wings fills the air as a handful of dragon riders barrel into the space around us. Imogen. Bodhi. A third-year with a scarred lip I recognize. Liam. But no one is reaching for a weapon.

At least the odds are in our favor now. Power unfurls under my skin, and I throw open that Archives door, letting energy rush over me in a torrent of scalding heat. The sky crackles.

“No!” Xaden turns and hauls me against his chest, wrapping his arms around me and pinning my arms to my sides.

“What are you doing?” I throw my weight against Xaden, but it’s no use.

He has me locked down tight.

A gust of wind hits my right side as Tairn lands.

“Holy shit, that one is huge,” the woman says. Around Xaden’s immovable arm, I see the gryphon riders retreat with quick steps, their eyes flying wide as they look up.

Xaden lifts one hand to cup the nape of my neck as I look up at him. What the actual fuck is he doing? Kissing me before we die? “If you have ever trusted me, Violet, I need you to do it now.” The plea in his eyes leaves me stunned. Our enemies are feet away and he wants to…have a moment?

“Just stay here. Stay calm.” His eyes search mine for an answer to a question I haven’t been asked. Then he passes me to Liam.

Passes me. Like I’m a damned rucksack.

Liam pins my arms to my sides with careful but unyielding strength. “I’m sorry about this, Violet.”

Why the hell is everyone apologizing?

“Let. Me. Go,” I demand as Xaden strides toward the pair of gryphon riders, Garrick at his side. Fear squeezes my heart like a vise that he thinks he can take on the gryphons and their riders himself.

“I can’t do that,” Liam apologizes, his voice lowering. “I really wish I could.”

Tairn roars from my right so hard that spit flies, smacking Liam in the face and making my ears ring. Liam drops his hands and backs away slowly, putting his palms up. “Got it. Point made. No touching.” Free from his grip, I spin toward the field as Xaden reaches the riders.

“You’re fucking early,” he says. And my heart stops.

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