Chapter no 39

Fourth Wing (The Empyrean Book 1)


“She’ll be all right.” Sgaeyl’s voice is gentler than she’s ever deigned to use with me. Then again, she didn’t choose me because I needed coddling. She chose me for the scars on my back and the simple fact that I am the grandson of her second rider-the one who didn’t make it through the quadrant.

“You don’t know that she’ll be all right. No one does.” It’s been three fucking days, and Violet hasn’t woken up. Three never-ending days I’ve spent in this armchair, walking a knife’s edge between sanity and madness, studying every rise and fall of her chest just to be sure she’s still breathing.

My lungs only fill when hers do, and the time between my heartbeats is filled with sharp, all-consuming fear.

She’s never looked fragile to me, but she does now, lying in the middle of my bed, her lips pale and chapped, the ends of her hair duller than their usual bladelike hue. For three days, everything about her has felt as though the life was leached from her body, only a shadow of her soul left beneath her skin.

But today, at least, the morning light shows her cheeks have a little more color along the darker line of her flight goggles than yesterday.

I’m a fucking fool. I should have left her at Basgiath. Or sent her with Aetos, even if it strained Sgaeyl and Tairn. She never should have suffered the punishment Colonel Aetos delivered. For a crime she didn’t even know I was committing. Didn’t even suspect.

I run a hand through my hair. She wasn’t the only one who suffered.

Liam would be alive.

Liam. Guilt pairs with soul-sucking grief, and I can barely inhale around the pain in my chest. I’d ordered my foster brother to keep her safe, and that order got him killed. His death is on me.

I should have known what was waiting for us at Athebyne-

“You should have told her about the venin. I waited for you to impart the information, and now she’s suffering,” Tairn growls. The dragon is the living, fire-breathing embodiment of my shame. But at least the bond that links the four of us is still in place, even if he can’t communicate with her- which means Violet’s alive.

He can yell at me all he wants as long as her heart’s beating.

“I should have done a lot of things differently.” What I shouldn’t have done was fought my feelings for her. I should have grabbed on to her after that first kiss the way I wanted and kept her at my side, should have let her all the way in.

My eyelids scratch like sandpaper each time I blink, but I’m fighting sleep with every bone in my body. Sleep is where I hear her heartbreaking scream, hear her cry that Liam died, hear her call me a fucking traitor over and over.

She can’t die, and not just because there’s a chance I won’t survive. She can’t die because I know I can’t live without her even if I do. Somewhere between the shock of our attraction at the top of that turret to realizing she risked her own life by giving up a boot for someone else on the parapet that first day to her throwing those daggers at my head under the oak tree, I wavered. I should have realized the danger of getting too close the first time I put her on her back and showed her how easily she could kill me on the mat-a vulnerability I’ve allowed no one else-but I brushed it off as an undeniable attraction to a uniquely beautiful woman. When I watched her conquer the Gauntlet, then defend Andarna at Threshing, I stumbled, stunned by both her cunning and her sense of honor. When I burst into her room and found Oren’s treacherous hand at her throat, the rage that made it so easy to kill all six of them without batting an eye should have told me I was headed for a cliff. And when she smiled at me after mastering her shield in mere minutes, her face lighting up as the snow fell around us, I fucking fell.

We hadn’t even kissed, and I fell.

Or maybe it was when she threw her knives at Barlowe or when jealousy ate me alive seeing Aetos kiss the mouth I’d dreamed about countless times.

Looking back, there were a thousand tiny moments that pulled me over the edge for the woman asleep in the bed I always pictured her in.

And I never told her. Not until she was delirious with poison. Why? Because I was scared to give her power over me when she already held it all? Because she’s Lilith Sorrengail’s daughter? Because she kept giving Aetos second and third chances?

No. Because I couldn’t give her those words without being totally, completely honest with her, and after the way she looked at me at the lake, the utter betrayal-

The rustle of sheets makes my gaze whip to her face, and I take my first full breath since she fell from Tairn’s back. Her eyes are open.

“You’re awake.” My voice sounds like it’s been dragged across gravel when I thought it’d only been my heart.

I stagger to my feet and take the two steps that separate me from her bedside. She’s awake. She’s alive. She’s…smiling? That must be a trick of the light. This woman likely wants to set me on fire.

“Can I check your side?” The mattress depresses slightly as I sit near her hip.

She nods and stretches her arms up like a cat who’s been napping in the sun before reaching for the blankets.

Drawing back the covers, I untie the robe covering the short nightdress I changed her into that first evening and slowly lift the hem above the silken skin of her hip, preparing myself for the black tendrils that discolored her veins during the flight but receded slowly since we arrived. There’s nothing. Just a thin silver line an inch above her hipbone. Air gushes from my lungs in relief. “Miraculous.”

“What’s miraculous?” she croaks, looking down at her new scar.

Shit. I would be a horrible healer. “Water.” My hand shakes with exhaustion, or relief, I don’t even care which, as I pour a glass from the pitcher on my bedside table. “You must be parched.”

She pushes herself to sit, then takes the glass, drinking the entire thing down. “Thanks.”

“You are.” I set the empty glass on the nightstand and then turn back to her, gazing into the hazel eyes that have haunted me since Parapet. “You are miraculous,” I finish in a whisper. “I was fucking terrified, Violet. There aren’t adequate words.”

“I’m fine, Xaden,” she says softly, her hand rising to rest above my pounding heart.

“I thought I was going to lose you.” The confession comes out strangled, and maybe it’s pushing my luck after all I’ve put her through, but I can’t keep from leaning forward and brushing my lips over her forehead, then her temple. Gods, I’d kiss her forever if I thought it would keep the coming argument at bay, keep us in this one pristine moment where I can actually believe that everything might be all right between us, that I haven’t irrevocably fucked up the best thing that’s ever happened to me.

“You aren’t going to lose me.” She gives me a puzzled look, smiling like I’ve said something peculiar. Then she leans in and kisses me.

She still wants me. The revelation makes my heart fucking soar. I take the kiss deeper, swiping my tongue over her soft lower lip and gently sucking on the tender curve. That’s all it takes for need to flood my system, hot and demanding. It’s always like this between us-the slightest spark sets off a wildfire that consumes every thought that isn’t related to how many ways I can make her moan. We’ll have a lifetime of these moments ahead of us, when I can strip her down to her skin and worship every curve and hollow of her body, but this isn’t one of them, not when she’s barely been awake for five minutes. I draw back, slowly releasing her mouth. “I’ll make it up to you,” I promise, holding her delicate hands between my rough ones. “I’m not saying we won’t fight or you won’t want to throw those daggers at me when I’m inevitably an ass, but I swear I will always strive to do better.”

“Make what up to me?” She pulls away with an inquisitive smile.

I blink as my brow furrows. Has she lost her memories? “How much do you remember? By the time we got you here, the poison spread to your brain and-”

Her eyes flare, and something shifts, something that sinks my stomach like a rock as she tugs her hands from mine.

She glances away, and her eyes glaze in that way that tells me she’s checking in with her dragons.

“Don’t panic. Everything is fine. Andarna isn’t quite the same, but she’s…her.” She’s fucking huge now, but I’m not about to say that to Violet. Her gift is also gone, according to Tairn, but there’s plenty of time to share that news. Instead, I say, “The healer told me he isn’t sure what lasting effects the poison might have, because it was something he’s never seen, and no one really knows how long it will take to get your memories back if there’s any lasting damage, but I’ll tell you-”

She throws up her hand and looks around the room, as if noticing where we are for the first time, then scrambles backward out of bed, pulling her robe closed. The look in her eyes puts a vise around my chest as she stumbles to the large windows that line my bedchamber.

The windows that look out over the mountain this fortress is built upon down to the valley below and its line of charred trees marking where the earth was scorched all the way to stone and the quiet town-which used to be a city-of Aretia beneath us.

The town we’ve worked our asses off to rebuild from a pile of cinder and ruins.

“Violet?” I keep my shields up, trying to respect her privacy as I walk to her side, but gods, I need to know what she’s thinking.

Her eyes widen as her gaze sweeps over the town, each structure with its identical green roofs, then pauses on the Temple of Amari, which was the most noted landmark besides our library.

“Where are we? And don’t you dare lie to me,” she says. “Not again.”

Not again. “You remember.”

“I remember.”

“Thank gods,” I murmur, shoving my hand into my hair. It’s a good thing, proving that she’s truly healed, but…fuck.

“Where. Are. We?” She bites out every word, her eyes narrowing on me. “Say it.”

“The way you’re looking at me says you already know.” There’s no way this brilliant woman doesn’t recognize that temple.

“This looks like Aretia.” She gestures to the window. “There’s only one temple with those particular columns. I’ve seen the drawings.” “Yes.” Brilliant. Fucking. Woman.

“Aretia was burned to the ground. I’ve seen those drawings, too, the ones the scribes brought back for the public notices. My mother told me she saw the embers with her own eyes, so where are we?” Her voice rises.

“Aretia.” It feels incredibly freeing to tell her the truth.

“Rebuilt or never burned?” She turns her back on me.

“In the process of rebuilding.”

“Why haven’t I read about this?”

I start to tell her, but she holds up a hand and I wait. It only takes her a minute to work it out, too.

She points to my rebellion relic and says, “Melgren can’t see the outcome when more than three of you are together. That’s why you’re not allowed to assemble.”

I can’t help it. I smile. This brilliant fucking woman is mine. Or was mine. Will be mine again if I have anything to say about it. Which I probably don’t. I sigh, losing the smile immediately. Fuck.

No, I’m not giving up until she tells me to.

Things might be complicated, but so are both of us.

“That and we’re not big enough to warrant the attention of the scribes anymore. We’re not hidden. We’re just not…advertising our existence.” Which is also the reason this place is still technically…mine. Nobles weren’t exactly eager to throw their money at a scorched city or be taxed on unusable land. Eventually they’ll notice. Eventually I’ll lose it. Then I’ll

lose my head. “You can know whatever you want. Just ask.”

She stiffens. “Tell me one thing right now.”


“Is…” Her shoulders stutter as she inhales. “Is Liam really dead?”

Liam. A fresh stab of sorrow pierces my ribs. Heartbeats pass in silence as I try to find the right words, but there aren’t any, so I take from my pocket the palm-size, freshly finished carving of Andarna Liam had been working on.

She turns in my direction, her gaze immediately locking on the figurine, and her eyes water. “It’s my fault.”

“No, it’s mine. If I had just told you everything sooner, you would have been prepared. You probably would have schooled us all on how to kill them.” My soul breaks all over again when she swipes at twin tears with the backs of her hands. I set the carving in her hand. “I know I should have, but I couldn’t bear to burn it. We laid him to rest yesterday. Well, the others did. I haven’t left this room since we got here.” Our gazes collide, and it’s all I can do not to reach for her, but I know I’m the last place she’ll seek comfort. “I haven’t left you.”

“Well, you do have a vested interest in my survival,” she quips with a watery, sarcastic smile. “Give me a second to get dressed, and then we’ll talk.”

“Kicking me out of my own room.” I reach for that sarcastic, teasing tone that used to be so easy when it came to her and back away. “New one.”

“Now, Riorson.”

I can’t keep from wincing. She never uses my last name. Maybe it’s because she doesn’t like to remember that I’m Fen Riorson’s son, and all my father cost her, but I’ve always been Xaden to her. The loss feels like a bottomless abyss, like a death blow. “Bathing chamber is through there.” I point to the far wall and stride for the exit, swinging my sword over my back on the way out.

My cousin is leaned up against the wall, talking to Garrick, who’s boasting a new six-inch scar from temple to jaw, but they both fall silent as I shut my door behind me. They tense and Garrick stands to his full height. “She’s awake.”

“Thank Amari,” Bodhi says, his shoulders sagging. His arm is still in a sling, recovering from the four places a venin fractured it.

“She’s going to have to choose.” I look at Garrick, noting the worry in his eyes. He’s already told me he thinks she’ll keep our secret. That worry is for my mental state if she doesn’t forgive me for not telling her sooner. “She’ll either keep our secret or she won’t.”

“That’s something you’ll have to figure out,” he replies. “And then teach her how to hide it from Aetos if she chooses.”

“Any word from the fliers?”

“Syrena is alive, if that’s what you’re asking,” Bodhi answers. “So is her sister. But the rest…” He shakes his head.

At least they made it out, and now that Violet is awake, I can finally breathe. “You figure out what that box was that Chradh was drawn to back at Resson?” I ask. Garrick’s dragon is remarkably sensitive to runes, which allowed them to locate and retrieve the small iron box beneath the rubble of the clock tower.

“They’re working on it right now. Hopefully we’ll have an answer in the next couple of hours. I’m glad she’s all right, Xaden. I’ll tell the others.” He nods once and heads down the hall, almost as familiar with the castle’s layout as I am, considering he spent every summer here before the apostasy, or secession, as the Navarrians call Dad’s rebellion.

Funny how people rename everything that makes them feel uncomfortable. We lost faith that our king would ever do the right thing.

And they call us traitors.

Bodhi wrinkles his nose.


“You smell like dragon ass.”

“Fuck off.” I chance a whiff and can’t argue. “I’m using your room.”

“I would consider it a personal favor.”

I extend my middle finger and head toward his room.

An hour later, I’m bathed and impatient as I wait outside my room in a fresh set of leathers with Bodhi, who’s doing his best to lighten my mood just like he always does, when the door opens and Violet stands there.

I nearly swallow my tongue at the sight of her unbound, damp hair curling just under her breasts. I can’t even articulate what it is about the strands that pushes me straight into need-to-fuck-her-now territory, and I’m too busy fighting to keep my hands at my sides to question the why of it.

She exists, and I get turned on. I’ve come to accept that particular truth over the last year.

Bodhi grins, flashing a smile that looks exactly like my aunt’s used to. “Good to see you up and about, Sorrengail.” Then he smacks me on the shoulder as he walks off, looking back over his shoulder. “I’ll fetch the backup plan. Good luck.”

Gods, I want to haul her into my arms and love her until she forgets everything except how good we are together, but I’m sure that’s the last thing she’ll ever want again.

“Come back in,” she says softly, and my heart lurches.

“As long as you’ve invited me.” I walk in, loathing the distrust in her eyes.

Whether or not Violet will believe me, I’ve never lied to her. Not once.

I’ve just never been entirely truthful, either.

“Is all this original?” she asks, her gaze sweeping over my bedroom.

“The majority of the fortress is stone,” I say as she studies the detailed arches at the ceiling, the natural lighting from the windows that consume the western wall. “Stone doesn’t burn.”


I swallow. Hard. “I think after all you’ve seen, the question I have to ask before I tell you everything is pretty simple. Are you in? Are you willing to fight with us?” She could just as easily decide to turn us all in. She didn’t know enough to condemn us, but she does now.

“I’m in.” She nods.

Relief surges through me in a rush more powerful than anything I could channel from Sgaeyl, and I reach for her. “I’m so sorry I had to keep…” My words die on my tongue as she steps back, avoiding me.

“Not happening.” A world of hurt flashes in those hazel eyes, and I fucking wither. “Just because I believe you and am willing to fight with you doesn’t mean I’ll trust you with my heart again. And I can’t be with someone I don’t trust.”

Something in my chest crumples. “I’ve never lied to you, Violet. Not once. I never will.”

She walks over to the window and looks down, then slowly turns back to me. “It’s not even that you kept this from me. I get it. It’s the ease with which you did it. The ease with which I let you into my heart and didn’t get the same in return.” She shakes her head, and I see it there, the love, but it’s masked behind defenses I foolishly forced her to build.

I love her. Of course I love her. But if I tell her now, she’ll think I’m saying it for all the wrong reasons, and honestly, she’d be right.

I’m not going to lose the only woman I’ve ever fallen for without a fight. “You’re right. I kept secrets,” I admit, pressing forward again, taking step after step until I’m less than a foot from her. I palm the glass on both sides of her head, loosely caging her in, but we both know she could walk away if she wanted. But she doesn’t move. “It took me a long time to trust you, a long time to realize I fell for you.” Someone knocks. I ignore it.

“Don’t say that.” She lifts her chin, but I don’t miss the way she glances at my mouth.

“I fell for you.” I lower my head and look straight into her gorgeous eyes. She might be rightfully pissed, but she sure as Malek isn’t fickle. “And you know what? You might not trust me anymore, but you still love me.”

Her lips part, but she doesn’t deny it. “I gave you my trust for free once, and once is all you get.” She masks the hurt with a quick blink.

Never again. Those eyes will never reflect hurt I’ve inflicted ever again.

“I fucked up by not telling you sooner, and I won’t even try to justify my reasons. But now I’m trusting you with my life-with everyone’s lives.”

I’ve risked it all by just bringing her here instead of taking her body back to Basgiath. “I’ll tell you anything you want to know and everything you don’t. I’ll spend every single day of my life earning back your trust.”

I’d forgotten what it felt like to be loved, really, truly loved-it’d been so many years since Dad died. And Mom… Not going there. But then Violet gave me those words, gave me her trust, her heart, and I remembered. I’ll be damned if I don’t fight to keep them.

“And if it’s not possible?”

“You still love me. It’s possible.” Gods, do I ache to kiss her, to remind her exactly what we are together, but I won’t, not until she asks. “I’m not afraid of hard work, especially not when I know just how sweet the rewards are. I would rather lose this entire war than live without you, and if that means I have to prove myself over and over, then I’ll do it. You gave me your heart, and I’m keeping it.” She already owns mine, even if she doesn’t realize it.

Her eyes widen, as if she’s finally seeing the resolve in mine.

It’s time she knew everything. Knowing Violet, she won’t stay tucked away, safe behind Basgiath’s walls, especially not now that she knows just how corrupt those walls are.

She’ll fight this war at my side.

There’s another insistent knock at the door.

“Fuck is he impatient,” I mutter. “You have about twenty seconds to ask a question, if I know him.”

She blinks. “I’m still hoping that missive at Athebyne was really about the War Games. Do you think there’s any chance we just happened to end up in the middle of a wyvern attack at that outpost?”

“That definitely wasn’t an accident, little sister,” he says from the doorway.

I sigh and move to the side, watching Violet’s eyes widen as she sees him standing in the doorway. “Told you I knew better poison masters,” I tell her softly. “You weren’t healed. You were mended.”

“Brennan?” She stares at her brother in open-mouthed shock.

Brennan just grins and opens his arms. “Welcome to the revolution,


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