Chapter no 37

Fourth Wing (The Empyrean Book 1)

I whip around in the saddle and see a venin-the one who killed Soleil, distended, branchlike veins spreading from her red eyes-grasping the sword she’s stabbed in between Tairn’s scales in the area behind his wings.

“There’s a venin on your back!” I shout at Tairn as the venin whips a ball of fire toward my head. It comes so close that I feel the singe of heat along my cheek.

Tairn rolls, executing a dizzying climb that throws my weight back into the saddle, and yet the venin holds fast, grabbing on to the embedded sword as her feet fly out from under her. The second Tairn levels off, the venin stares at me like I’m her next meal, striding for me with nothing but resolve in her eyes and fisting serrated green-tipped daggers.

“Three more riderless ones on my tail!” Tairn shouts.

Fuck. There’s something I’m missing. It’s taunting me from the edge of my mind like the answer to a test I know I’ve studied for.

“Aren’t you a little small for a dragon rider?” the venin hisses.

“Big enough to kill you.” Tairn and I are dead if I don’t do something.

“I need you to stay level,” I tell Tairn, unbuckling my thigh straps.

“You will not unseat!” Tairn growls.

“I won’t let her kill you!” I climb to my feet and unsheathe the two daggers Xaden gave me today. Every challenge, every obstacle, every hour Imogen spent in the weight room, every single time Xaden has taken me to the mat has to be worth something, right?

This is just a challenge…with a not-so-fictitious dark wielder…on the parapet.

A moving, flying parapet.

“Get back in your seat!” Tairn orders.

“You can’t shake her. She’ll cut into you again. I have to kill her.” I shove the fear aside. There’s no room for it here.

By the dying sunlight and the eerie glow of the burning city below us, I dodge the first swipe of her knife, then the second, ducking low and throwing up my forearm to block a downward thrust, halting the plunge of metal jabbing toward my face. The force of impact results in a snap I know is one of my bones.

Excruciating pain momentarily freezes me as the dagger flies out of my hand. I’m down to only one. My heart pounds as my feet catch on one of Tairn’s spikes, and I stumble.

I can’t even cradle my ruined, throbbing arm as she advances, gaining on me with every lunge and swipe of her green-tipped daggers. It’s as if she knows exactly what I’m going to do before I do it. She counters every one of my attacks with a quicker one of her own, as if she’s adapting to my fighting style from mere moments of combat. She’s unnaturally quick. I’ve never seen Xaden or Imogen move this fast.

I manage to parry each of her attacks, but there’s no question that I’m on the defense. She’s not even in leathers, just a fluttering sail of a robe, and still-

Pain flares in my side, hot and sharp, and I fall back in disbelief when I find one of her daggers protruding low in my side, just beneath the edge of the dragon-scale armor.

Tairn roars and Andarna shrieks.

“Violet!” Xaden screams.

“She’s too fast!” I doubt the dagger has struck anything vital from its position, and I fight through mouthwatering nausea to balance the only venin blade I have left and yank hers out. But something isn’t right. The wound begins to burn, and I immediately battle to keep my balance as acid races through my veins. The tip on the knife is no longer green as it falls from my fingers.

“Such untapped power. No wonder we were called here. You could command the sky to surrender all its power, and I bet you don’t know what to do with it, do you? Riders never do. I’m going to split you open and see where all that astonishing lightning comes from.” She waves the other dagger at me, and I realize she’s playing with me. “Or maybe I’ll let him do it. You’ll wish for death if I hand you over to my Sage.”

She has a teacher?

She’s a damn student, just like me, and I’m lethally outmatched. I can barely keep track of which hand her blade is in. My arm has its own heartbeat, and my side screams.

“Level the playing field,” Xaden orders. He’s split his power and shadows rush in from the cliffs at my left, throwing the world around me- and the venin-into a cloud of complete darkness.

And I have the power of light.

I’m the one in control now, and I know the terrain of Tairn’s back like my own hand. Moving to the right, where I can feel the slope of his shoulder, I take up a fighting stance, grip my dagger in my good hand, and let my power explode through the dark, illuminating the sky for one crackling, priceless second.

The venin is disoriented, her back turned toward me. I plunge the runed dagger between her ribs-right where Xaden showed me all those months ago-and yank it out so I don’t lose it. She staggers backward, her face turning an ashen gray before she falls from Tairn’s back.

I falter, swaying as the acid in my veins burns brighter, harsher, incinerating me from the inside out.

“She’s dead,” I manage to tell them, throwing the word out toward Tairn, Xaden, Andarna, Sgaeyl…whoever might be listening.

The shadows fall away, letting in the fading light of dusk as I stumble toward the saddle, holding my side to stanch the flow of blood from the stab wound.

“You’re hurt,” Tairn accuses.

“I’m fine,” I lie, staring with wide eyes as dark-black blood sludges through my fingers. Not good. So not good.

I won’t be able to fight another in hand-to-hand, not with the wound in my side, and soon I’ll be too weak to wield. The strength is flowing out of me with my blood. I sheathe the dagger. My best weapon now is my mind.

Taking a deep breath, I fight to steady my heartbeat and think.

“They’re falling,” Tairn says, and I jerk my gaze from my side to see three wyvern tumble from the sky and crash to the earth.

Riderless wyvern.

Created by venin.

And they all died because I killed one venin.

That’s what Liam was trying to tell me. When a dragon dies, so does its rider. But apparently when a venin dies, so do the wyvern they created. All of them. That’s how we can save everyone on this battlefield.

There are two riders among the horde Xaden is holding back.

“We have to take out the riders,” I whisper.

“Yes,” Tairn agrees, following my thoughts. “Excellent idea.”

“You’re willing to gamble your life on it?” If I’m wrong, we’re both dead, and so are Xaden and Sgaeyl.

“I will bet my life on you as I have from the first day,” he says, banking to fly back to the valley as the other dragons rush with their riders to follow us, no doubt following Tairn’s command. Only Garrick and his Brown Scorpiontail are ahead of us, flying low and fast toward Xaden. “Three of the venin are dead, but one is-”

I watch in horror as a venin with a staff as tall as he is strides out of the darkness, his menacing gaze locked on Xaden.

“To the left!” I scream at Xaden.

Sgaeyl spins and blasts fire at the venin, but he doesn’t so much as pause.

Garrick leans from his seat and flings a dagger, but before it can reach the venin, the robed figure slams his staff into the ground and disappears like he was never there in the first place.

He moved. But to where?

“The hell?” I shout into the wind.

“A general can recognize another general, and that’s their leader,” Tairn says.

The Sage?

“I can’t hold them back much longer!” Xaden yells, his arms shaking so hard, it looks like his body is tearing itself apart at the very seams as we rush toward the mouth of the valley.

“New plan,” I tell Xaden as Tairn pushes himself to the max. “I need you to let the shadows fall.”

“WHAT?” He’s already wavering; I can see it by the straining shapes against his shadows, wyvern desperate to push their way through.

“So much suffering.” The hurt in Andarna’s voice jars me.

I whip my head back toward the trading post and catch the glint of gold.

My heart seizes. “No! It’s not safe for you here!” “You need me!” she yells.

“Please hide. One of us has to survive this,” I tell her as Tairn flies past Xaden and Sgaeyl.

“Xaden, you have to drop the shadows. It’s the only way.”

“Tairn!” Sgaeyl shouts, fear edging her tone in a way I’ve never heard.

“Don’t ask that of me.” Even Xaden’s voice shakes. Those shadows are coming down whether or not he wants them to. He’s approaching burnout.

“If you’ve ever trusted me, Xaden, I need you to do it now,” I use his earlier words, barely breathing through the searing pain in my side. He’ll lose himself to burnout if he doesn’t trust me.

“Fuck!” In a blink, the wall of shadow falls, and the wyvern fly toward us with terrifying speed. If I can’t do this, no one will survive. There are too many of them.

“Spot the more powerful rider, Tairn.” It’s the best bet. The only bet.

We’re a minute away from a collision.

“Once I’ve taken the rider out, that only leaves one, Xaden. Just kill that one and the rest of the wyvern will fall.”

“I’m coming.”

But I’ll get there first. Tairn is faster than Sgaeyl. “You saved us by holding them back this long.”

When he starts to respond, I slam my shield down, blocking him out to concentrate.

Tairn’s head swivels left and right, searching, and I break apart the last of my Archives walls, keeping one foot firmly on that marble floor.

“There,” Tairn says, his head turned to the right. “That one.”

At the corner of the flying horde is a seated venin, crimson veins streaking his temples and traveling down his cheeks.

“You’re sure?” I ask.


Blue fire erupts from the horde, and I barely draw breath before a torrent of shadows rises from the edges of the valley, snuffing out the flame.

Power ripples in my bones, vibrating my very being with the amount of energy I’m forcing my body to contain.

“Tell me your plan isn’t to try and jump on the wyvern’s back?” Tairn asks as my breath hitches. Just a few more seconds and we’ll be close enough.

“I don’t have to,” I tell him. “Didn’t you hear what the venin said? I can command the sky to surrender all its power, but I’m going to need every ounce of yours to do it.” I unleash my signet and strike once, missing the wyvern, then again, missing once more.

They’re almost on us as I strike again and again, pushing myself to the limit as Xaden smothers the blue flames before they have a chance to burn me alive.

I can’t aim. I’m not ready. Maybe if I had another year or two to practice, but not now. “I need more, Tairn!”

“You will burn out, Silver One!” he growls, dodging a flame Xaden misses. “You already walk the edge.”

My arms shake as I lift them again. “This is the only way I can save them. I can save Sgaeyl. You just have to decide to live, Tairn. Even if I don’t.”

“I will not watch another rider die because they do not know their own limitations. One more strike could be your last. I feel your waning strength.”

“I know exactly what I’m capable of,” I promise as energy fills my body once again, and my heart jolts, struggling to find the right rhythm. Hot. I’m so damned hot, I feel like I could burst into flame myself. I’ve taken too much power. “I’m not Naolin.”

Fear threatens to consume me as the venin rides at us, close enough that I can see his snarling mouth, but it’s not my terror. It’s Tairn’s.

“Let me help!” Andarna shouts, and my heart swells even as it stutters from the energy flowing through my veins. I don’t have time to look to see where she is-I only hope she’s still in the outpost.

“Only what I need,” I say to her.

I swallow hard, my good hand clutching the blood-tipped dagger as we fly toward the wall of wyvern. I reach for her golden power, and it spreads down my spine and explodes through me, time pausing around us.

Tairn flares his wing, bringing us to a hover as the wyvern move toward us inch by precious inch, fighting against Andarna’s magic with their own.

I have to want to kill that venin, and gods help me, I do.

“Now!” I push my arms toward the venin and command lightning to split the sky, and it does, branching out in every direction, but I only need to control one of its silver-blue veins. I focus on the one closest to the venin, bringing it down in slow bursts that defy time. My arms vibrate, and I feel

Tairn’s power push the boundaries of my body as I yank the branch sideways in its descent, inch by inch with the last of my strength, positioning it over the venin. “More, Tairn!”

He roars and lightning itself rips through me, sizzling my lungs and charring my very breath as Andarna’s gift ebbs. I don’t have to be near her to feel her fatigue, her strength ebbing. But I only take what I need. Andarna will live today, even if she is the only one.

I have only a few heartbeats or this much power will burn through me and take me under.

Xaden screams through the barrier in my mind, and the sounds of his anguish and fear are nearly more than I can bear. But there’s no time to focus on him, to wonder what will happen if I don’t succeed. Because right now, I am focused on vengeance with a coldness that would make even my mother proud.

Finally dragging the lightning down into place as my skin sizzles and burns, I release time and hold myself upright long enough to see it strike true, killing the venin at the first touch of its energy. As if time were still frozen, his body slowly topples from the top of his wyvern.

In the next breath, more than half the monsters fall from the sky, as if they were struck themselves, and, as if it had been waiting for me to accomplish my goal, the wound in my side threatens to burn me alive.

“On the left!” Tairn roars, swinging toward the wyvern and its rider as they barrel toward us with murder in their eyes.

A rope of shadow flies up, wrapping around the venin’s neck as Tairn banks left to avoid the hit, and I barely manage to keep my seat.

Xaden pulls the venin from the wyvern’s back and yanks him downward, right into the dagger he holds in his outstretched hand.

Damn, sometimes I forget just how beautifully lethal he is.

Knowing they’ll all live, I let gravity claim my body and slide from Tairn’s back.

“VIOLET!” I hear Xaden’s scream as I fall.

You'll Also Like