Chapter no 12

Iron Flame (The Empyrean Book 2)

The landscape around the Samara outpost is as severe as the command that runs it.

We’re high in the Esben Mountains, a mile or two from the eastern border with Poromiel, and surrounded by peaks that are still tipped with snow in the height of summer. The nearest village is a half-hour flight. There’s not even a trading post within walking distance. This is as cut off from society as it gets.

“Be careful,” Tairn orders me, waiting behind me in the field where he landed. “It’s known to be…brutal as a first assignment.”

So naturally, they’d send Xaden here.

“I’ll be all right,” I promise. “And my shields are up.”

To be sure, I check the walls of my mental Archives, where I ground in my power, and can’t help the little bounce in my step when I see only a hint of light from my bonds coming from the doorways. I am definitely getting better at this.

I head for the entrance to the mammoth fortress that rises before me, its dark-red stone cutting into the crisp blue sky. It’s probably laid out like Athebyne and Montserrat, but it’s easily twice as big as either. Two companies of infantry and eighteen dragons and their riders are stationed here.

Something sways up high on the wall, and I look to see a man in infantry colors sitting in a cage about four stories above me.

Well, all right then. It’s a little after eight in the morning, so I can’t help but wonder if he’s been up there all night.

There’s a hum in my veins that only grows stronger as I walk up the ramp that leads to the portcullis, where two guards are stationed. A platoon passes by, headed out for a morning run.

“It’s the wards,” Tairn says.

“They didn’t feel like this at Montserrat,” I tell him.

“They’re stronger here, and since your signet has manifested, you’re more sensitive to them now.” His tone is tight, and when I glance back over my shoulder, I note that all the soldiers give him a wide berth, taking a path off to the side of the field.

“You don’t have to watch my back,” I say, reaching the top of the ramp.

“This is an outpost. I’m safe here.”

“There’s a drift on the other side of the mountains, a mile beyond the border. Sgaeyl just told me. You’re not safe until you’re behind the walls or with the wingleader.”

I don’t bother reminding him that Xaden isn’t a wingleader anymore as my stomach jumps into my throat. “A friendly drift?”

“Define friendly.”

Great. We’re not on the front; we are the front.

The guards at the gate stand taller when they take in my flight leathers but remain silent as I pass by. “They’re not acting like there’s a drift across the ridgeline.”

“Apparently it’s commonplace.”

Even better.

“There, I’m all safe behind the walls,” I tell Tairn, walking into the bailey of the fortress. At least it’s cooler here than at Basgiath, but I’m not sure I’d like to experience winter at this altitude.

Or Aretia’s, come to think of it.

“Call if you need me. I’ll be nearby.” A second later, wingbeats fill the


Like hell am I going to call him for anything. In fact, I’ll consider these next twenty-four hours a success if I can block him out altogether. I’ve been on the wrong mental side of the bond during one of his trysts with Sgaeyl, and no thank you.

I pass by several platoons of infantry standing in formation and note the infirmary off to the right, in the same location as Montserrat’s, but I’m the only person in black.

Where the hell are all the riders? I stifle a yawn—there wasn’t much sleep to be had in the saddle—and locate the entrance to the barracks that make up the southern side of the fortress. The corridor is dimly lit as I walk through, passing the office of the scribes, but I find the stairs at the end. A sensation of unwelcome familiarity crawls along my skin as I climb.


This outpost isn’t deserted. There isn’t a horde of venin and wyvern waiting to be spotted from the highest point, either. It’s only the same layout because almost all outposts are built from the same plans.

I push open the door to the third floor without encountering anyone. Odd. One side of the hallway is lined with windows that open to the bailey, and the other with equidistant wooden doors. My pulse picks up as I reach for the handle of the second door. It swings open with a squeak, and I recognize the tingle of energy that rushes over my skin, leaving chills in its wake as I step through the wards into Xaden’s room.

Xaden’s empty room. Shit.

I sigh in pure disappointment as I drop my pack near his desk.

His room is austere, with serviceable furniture and a door that probably leads to a neighboring room, but there are touches of him here and there. He’s in the books that sit stacked along the shelves of the bookcase by the window, the rack of weapons I recognize from his room at Basgiath, and the two swords that sit near the door, like he’ll be back any second to retrieve them.

The only softness to be found is in the heavy black drapes—standard issue in the room of a rider who might have to fly night patrols—and the

plush, darkgray blanket covering his bed. His very large bed.

Nope. Not thinking about that.

What the hell am I supposed to do if he’s not here? The swords say he’s not out flying, so I close my eyes and open up my senses, finding the shadow that’s only present when he’s near. If I found him that night on the parapet, surely I can do it here.

He’s close, but he must have his shields locked, because he doesn’t reach out like he usually would when I’m close. The bond feels like it’s tugging me downward, like he’s actually…under me.

I close Xaden’s door on the way out and follow the tugging sensation, making my way to the staircase and then descending. I pass the arched entrance to the second floor, catching a glimpse of a wide stone hallway with more barracks doors, then the entrance to the first, and finally reaching the sublevel of the fortress where natural light ends with the staircase on a stone floor. Mage lights illuminate two possible paths along the foundation of the fortress, both dimly lit and as welcoming as a dungeon. The scent of damp earth and metal permeates the air.

Shouts and cheers come from down a corridor to the right, echoing off the walls and floor. I follow the pull of the bond that direction and find a pair of infantry guards about twenty yards from the stairs who take one look at my uniform and step aside, allowing me access to a room carved out of the very foundation.

Noise overwhelms every other sense when I enter the chamber, and shock halts my feet inside the doorway.

What in the gods’ names is going on?

More than a dozen riders—all in black—stand along the sides of the square-shaped, windowless room that looks better suited for storage than occupation. They’re all leaning over a thick wooden railing, intently watching something in the excavated pit below.

I take the empty space on the rail directly ahead of me, finding myself between a veteran rider with a grizzled beard on my left and a woman who looks a few years older than me on the right. Then I see who’s below and my heart stops.

Xaden. And he is shirtless.

So is the other rider as they circle each other, their fists raised like they’re sparring. But there’s no mat beneath them, only a packed-dirt floor decorated with suspicious spatters of crimson, both old and fresh.

They’re equally matched in height, but the other rider is bulky, built like Garrick, and looks to have about twenty pounds on Xaden, who’s cut in deep, muscular lines.

The rider swings for Xaden’s face, and I white-knuckle the rough railing, holding my breath as Xaden easily evades the punch, delivering one of his own to his opponent’s ribs. The riders around me cheer, and I’m pretty sure I see money change hands across the pit.

This isn’t sparring. This is straight-up fighting.

And the way Xaden hit him? He’s holding back.

“Why are they…” I ask the silver-barred lieutenant next to me, my words dying as Xaden dips and spins, avoiding another attempted hit. There’s a definite sparkle in those dark eyes as he deftly jumps back again, denying his opponent’s strike.

My pulse jumps. Damn, he’s fast.

“Fighting?” The woman finishes my question.

“Yes.” I keep my gaze centered on Xaden, who lands quick, consecutive punches to the other rider’s kidneys.

“There’s only one pass for lieutenants this weekend,” she says, moving a little closer. “Jarrett has it, and Riorson wants it.”

“So they’re fighting for it?” I peel my eyes from Xaden long enough to glance sideways at the rider beside me. She has short brown hair, sharp, birdlike features, and a thumbprint-size scar on her jawline.

“Leave and pride. Lieutenant Colonel Degrensi’s rules. You want it? You fight for it. You want to keep it? You’d better be good enough to defend it.”

“They have to fight for passes? Isn’t that brutal?” And wrong. Extreme. Horrible. “And detrimental to wing morale?” He’s fighting so Sgaeyl will have time off to spend with Tairn, so he’ll have time with me.

“Brutal? Hardly.” She scoffs. “No blades. No signets. It’s just a fistfight. You want to see brutal, go and visit one of the coastal outposts with nothing

to do but turn on one another.” She leans forward and shouts as Xaden deflects the next punch, then grabs Jarrett by the biceps and throws him to his back. “Damn. I really thought Jarrett was going to take him in less time.”

A slow, proud smile spreads across my face.

“He won’t take him at all.” I shake my head, staring at Xaden with more than a little delight as he waits for Jarrett to gain his feet. “Xaden’s playing with him.”

The rider turns toward me, her gaze scanning me in clear assessment, but I’m too busy watching Xaden land hit after carefully placed hit to bother with what the lieutenant thinks about me.

“You’re her, aren’t you?” the rider asks, her appraisal pausing on my hair.

“Her who?” Here we go.

“Lieutenant Sorrengail’s sister.”

Not General Sorrengail’s daughter.

Not the cadet Xaden is stuck with because of Tairn. “You know my sister?” That earns her a glance.

“She has a hell of a right hook.” She nods, her knuckles grazing the scar on her jaw.

“She does,” I agree, my smile widening. Looks like Mira left her mark. Xaden lands a solid hit to Jarrett’s jaw with a crack.

“It appears Riorson does, too.” “He does.”

“You sound pretty confident.” She turns her attention back to the fight.

“I am.” My confidence in Xaden is almost…arrogance. Gods, he’s beautiful. The mage lights illuminating the chamber highlight every carved line of roped muscle on his chest and abs and play off the angles of his face. And when he turns, the hundred and seven scars that mark his back catch the light under Sgaeyl’s relic.

I stare. I can’t help it. His body is a work of art, honed to lethal perfection. I know every inch of it, and yet I’m still gawking, transfixed like it’s the first time I’ve seen him half-dressed. This should absolutely not be

turning me on, but the way he moves, the lethal grace in each and every calculated strike…

Yep. Turned on.

Maybe it’s toxic as hell, but it’s pointless to deny that every single part of me is attracted to every facet of Xaden. And it’s not just his body. It’s… everything. Even the darkest parts of him, the parts I know are merciless, willing to annihilate anyone and everyone who stands between him and a goal, pull me in like a moth to a fucking flame.

My heart pounds like a drumbeat and my stupid chest aches just watching him maneuver around the floor of the pit, toying with his opponent. I’ve missed watching him in the gym, sparring with Garrick. I’ve missed being with him on the mat, feeling his body over mine as he puts me on my back over and over again. I’ve missed the tiny moments in my day when our eyes would meet in a crowded hallway, the bigger moments when I’ve had him all to myself.

I’m so damn in love with him that it hurts, and for the moment, I can’t remember why I’m denying myself.

The rider on my left shouts, and Xaden’s gaze jerks upward, colliding with mine.

Surprise registers on his features for all of a heartbeat before his opponent swings, his fist slamming into Xaden’s jaw with a sound that makes my stomach twist.

I gasp as Xaden’s head snaps sideways with the force of the blow. He staggers backward to the cheers of the riders around me.

“Stop playing around and end it,” I say through our bond, using it for the first time since Resson.

“Always so violent.” He thumbs a drop of blood off the split in his lower lip, his gaze flashing to mine, and I swear I see a hint of a smile before he turns on Jarrett.

Jarrett swings once, then twice, missing Xaden both times.

Then Xaden strikes with two quick punches, putting his full weight behind them unlike before, and sending Jarrett to his hands and knees in the

dirt. Jarrett’s head hangs as he shakes it slowly, blood dripping from his mouth.

“Damn,” the rider next to me says.

“Exactly.” Is it wrong to smirk? Because I can’t seem to control my facial muscles.

Xaden stands back as the riders fall silent in the chamber, and then he extends his hand.

Jarrett’s chest heaves for a tense minute before he looks up at Xaden and shoves away the offered hand. He taps the floor twice, and while some riders around me groan—and yes, that’s money changing hands in the form of gold coins—others clap a couple of times. Jarrett spits blood onto the floor, then stands upright, nodding at Xaden respectfully.

The match—if that’s what this can be called—is apparently over. The riders head my way, filtering past me for the door.

Xaden says something to Jarrett that I can’t hear, then uses the metal rungs embedded into the stone’s masonry at the far end of the pit to climb out.

He reaches the top, then takes his shirt from where it’s draped across the railing and comes in my direction, watching me with enough heat in his gaze to set my already humming body on fire. Yeah, definitely can’t remember why I’m denying myself any part of this man.

“Looks like he won the pass,” the woman next to me says. “I’m Cornelia Sahalie, by the way.”

“Violet Sorrengail.” I know it’s rude, but I can’t make myself look away from Xaden as he turns the corner, approaching from the left.

He runs his tongue over the small cut at the side of his lower lip as if testing it, then tugs his shirt on. Taking away the show should cool my blood, but it doesn’t. Pretty sure dumping a bucket of snowy slush from the nearby peaks over my head couldn’t lessen the heat, either. I’d probably just steam.

Gods, I’m screwed when it comes to this man.

It doesn’t matter that he hurt me, didn’t trust me. I don’t even know if I trust him.

But I want him.

“Good job, Riorson,” Lieutenant Sahalie says to Xaden. “I’ll tell the major to take you off the patrol roster for forty-eight hours.”

“Twenty-four,” he corrects her, his eyes on me. “I only need twenty-four hours. Jarrett can have the other twenty-four.”

Because I’ll be gone.

“Suit yourself.” She clamps Jarrett on the shoulder in consolation as he walks by, then follows him out.

We’re alone.

“You’re early,” Xaden says, but the look in his eyes is anything but condemnation.

I lift a brow and try to ignore the way my palms itch to touch him. “Is that a complaint?”

“No.” He shakes his head slowly. “I just wasn’t expecting you until noon.”

“Turns out Tairn flies pretty damned fast when he’s not being held back by a riot.” Gods, why is it so hard to breathe suddenly? The air between us is thick, and my heart thrums as my gaze wanders to his mouth.

He’s killed people for me before, so why is him fighting for a weekend pass stripping every ounce of self-control straight out of my bloodstream?

“Violet.” Xaden’s voice drops to that low, quiet tone he only ever uses when we’re alone, and usually naked. Very naked.

“Hmmm?” Gods, I miss the feel of all his skin against all of mine.

“Tell me what’s spinning around that beautiful head of yours.” He moves closer, invading my space without touching me.

Fuck, I want him to touch me, even if it’s a bad idea. A really, really bad idea.

“Does it hurt?” I lift my fingertip to the corner of my lip where his is split.

He shakes his head. “I’ve had worse. It’s what I get for blocking with my shields to concentrate on the fight. Otherwise, I would have felt you. Look at me.” He takes my chin between his thumb and forefinger and gently tilts my head back before searching my eyes. “What are you

thinking? Because I can read a lot into the way you’re looking at me, but I’m going to need the words.”

I want him. How hard is that to say? My tongue ties. What would giving into this insatiable need for him mean?

That you’re human.

“I’m about three seconds away from carrying you up to my bedroom to continue this conversation.” His hand slides along my jaw, his thumb caressing my lower lip.

“Not your room.” I shake my head. “You. Me. Bed. Not a good idea at the moment.” Too tempting.

“As I remember—which I do, often—we don’t always need a bed.” His other hand palms my waist.

My thighs clench. “Violet?”

I cannot kiss this man. I can’t. But would it really be the end of the world if I did? It’s not like it would be the first time. Shit. I’m going to break. Even if it’s only for this moment.

“Hypothetically, if I wanted you to kiss me but only kiss me—” I start. His mouth is on mine before I finish.

Yes. This is exactly what I need. My lips part for him, and there’s no hesitation in the glide of his tongue against mine. He groans, and the sound reverberates through my very bones as I wrap my arms around his neck.

Home. Gods, he tastes like home.

I hear the door shut a second before my back is pressed against the rough wall of the chamber. Xaden slides his hands beneath my thighs, then lifts me so we’re level as he lays expert claim to every line and recess of my mouth like this is the only time he’ll get. Like kissing me is more vital than his next breath. Or maybe that’s the way I’m kissing him back. Whatever. I don’t care who is kissing whom as long as we don’t stop.

I lock my ankles at the small of his back, bringing our bodies flush, and my breath catches at the heat of his skin radiating through the fabric of his uniform and my leathers, and suddenly it’s too much and not enough.

This was a bad idea, a teasing taste of everything I want, and yet I can’t bring myself to stop. There’s nothing outside this kiss. No war. No lies. No secrets. There’s only his mouth, his hands sweeping up my sides, his desire matching the fire of mine. This is where I want to live, where nothing else matters but the way he makes me feel.

“Like a moth to a damned flame.” The lament slips from my mind, into our mental pathway. He’s gravity, pulling me back to him by the force of his existence.

“I’m more than willing to let you burn me.”

Wait, that’s not what I meant—

He cradles the back of my head, protecting me from the coarse stone, and angles for a deeper kiss. Gods, yes. Deeper. More. I can’t get enough. I’ll never get enough.

Energy arcs between us, hotter with every kiss, every flick of his tongue. Flames of need dance across my skin, leaving chills in their wake before settling deep within me, burning dangerously, reminding me that Xaden knows exactly how to sate this unquenchable desire.

He has the maddening ability to addict and satisfy all in the same breath. My hands slide into his hair as his lips slip down my throat, and my pulse leaps when he finds that sweet spot right above the collar of my flight

jacket, then mercilessly worships it with his mouth.

I’m instantly liquid, melting into him.

“Gods, I’ve missed the taste of you.” Even his mental voice comes across as a groan. “The feel of you in my arms.”

I bring my hands to his face and pull him back to my lips. He sucks my tongue into his mouth, and I whimper because I can say the exact same thing about him—I’ve missed everything about his taste, his kiss, him.

If any of those buttons on my flight jacket come undone, they’re all

coming undone.

The slant of his mouth over mine again and again makes me feel alive for the first time since… Gods, I can’t even remember. Since the last time he kissed me.

His hand squeezes my waist gently, then stretches up, the tips of his fingers reaching just beneath my breasts. Fuck it, the jacket can come off. So can the top. The armor. Everything that separates me from him.

I reach for the buttons.

But he eases his kiss, taking it from urgent and deep to thorough and deliciously slow. “We should stop.”

“What if I don’t want to?” The physical sound that leaves me is pure denial. I’m not ready for this to end, not ready to return to the reality where we’re not together, even if I’m the one standing in our way.

“We have to, or I won’t be able to keep to the only kiss limitation of your hypothetical question.” His hand drifts to my ass as his mouth softens, drawing on my lower lip with one last, lingering kiss. “Fuck, I want you.”

“Then don’t stop.” I look him in the eyes so he knows I mean it. “We can keep it to nothing but sex. We did last year… Not that it worked well.”

“Violet.” It’s part plea, part moan, and the war in his eyes makes my chest tighten. “You have no idea how badly I want to peel these pants off your amazing ass and fuck you until you’re hoarse from screaming my name, so limp from orgasms that you can’t fathom leaving my bed ever again, and every tree around here goes up in flames from lightning strikes.” His hand slides from behind my head to the nape of my neck. “Until you remember exactly how good we are together.”

“I never forgot.” It’s a whimper. My body is still humming.

“I’m not talking about physically.” He leans in and kisses me softly.

It’s sweet. Tender. Everything I don’t want to feel. Not when it comes to him. Heat and lust, I can cope with. But the rest? “Xaden,” I whisper, shaking my head slowly.

He studies my face for a heartbeat and masks the flash of disappointment with a half smile.

“Exactly.” He gently lowers me back to my feet, then steadies me, holding on to my waist when my knees wobble. “I want you more than my next breath, but I can’t fuck you into looking at me like you used to. I refuse to use sex as a tool to get you back.” He takes my hand and presses it to my chest. “Not when I want to be here.”

My eyes widen, and apprehension knots my stomach.

“That’s what I thought.” He sighs, but it’s not defeat tightening his mouth. It’s frustration. “You still don’t trust me, and that’s all right. I told you I’m not in this for a battle. I’m winning the damned war. I’m a fucking fool for saying this, but when haven’t I been a fool when it comes to you?”

“Excuse me?” I bristle. His memory must be faulty, because I’m the one who’s been the fool for him.

“Let me get this out.” He glances at my mouth. “I’ll kiss you whenever you want because my self-control is shit where you’re involved—”

“Whenever want?” My brows shoot up. What the hell is happening right now?

“Yes, whenever you want, because I’ll live with my mouth attached to yours if I do it whenever want.” He retreats a couple of steps, and I immediately miss the feel of his hands, the warmth of his skin. “But I’m begging you, Violet. Don’t offer me your body unless you’re offering me everything. I want you more than I want to fuck you. I want those three little words back.”

I stare at him, my mouth dropping open slightly. He’s not asking to hear that I want him. He wants to hear that I love him.

“It’s new territory for me, too.” He rakes his hands through his hair. “No one is more surprised than I am, trust me.”

“I’m sorry, but weren’t you the one last year who said we could have all the sex we wanted as long as we kept feelings out of it?” I fold my arms across my chest.

“See? Fucking fool.” He looks up at the rough-beamed ceiling like it has the answers. “Last year, I would have used any method it took to win you back, but for those three days you were unconscious, all I did was sit there and watch you sleep, thinking of everything I would have done differently.” Determination is etched on every line of his face when he brings his gaze back to mine. “This is me doing things differently.”

Somehow in the last month, we’ve managed to switch roles.

“This is me proving myself to you.” He steps back and pulls the door open, gesturing for me to walk out first, then rests his hand on the small of

my back as we walk down the hall. “We’re not there yet, but you’ll trust me again at some point.”

“Sure, as soon as you agree to stop keeping secrets from me.” How the hell is this my fault?

His sigh sounds like it’s ripped out of his very soul. “You need to trust me even with secrets for this to work.”

I grab onto the stair railing and take the stairs two at a time. “That’s not going to happen.”

“It will,” he says as we near the ground floor, then changes the subject. “Are you hungry?”

“I need to wash up first.” My nose crinkles. “Pretty sure I smell like I’ve been flying eight hours.”

“Why don’t you head on into my room, and I’ll bring food.” His hand slips from my lower back as we make our way into his barracks room. He points to the left and says, “That door leads to a private bathing chamber.”

“There’s no way you got a private bathing chamber as a brand-new lieutenant,” I sputter. “Mira doesn’t even have one.”

“You’d be amazed what you can get when no one wants to share space with Fen Riorson’s son,” he answers quietly.

My stomach sinks. I can’t think of a single thing to say to that.

“Don’t look so sad. Garrick has to share with four other riders. Go.” He motions to the door again. “I’ll be right back.”

An hour later, I’m clean and fed, and Xaden is sitting at his desk, fiddling with something that looks like a crossbow but smaller, as I sit on his bed and run a brush through my damp hair. I can’t help but smile at the steady feeling of what’s becoming routine, Xaden preparing a weapon while I sit on a bed.

“But they didn’t search Tairn?” he asks without looking up.

“Nope, just dumped my stuff on the ground.” My gaze catches momentarily on a palm-size gray stone with a decorative black rune on his nightstand before I spot a piece of grass that made the journey here from the flight field and flick it off my arm. “Did they search Sgaeyl?”

He shakes his head. “Only me. And Garrick. And every other new lieutenant leaving Basgiath with a rebellion relic.”

“They know you’ve been smuggling something out.” I lean over the edge of the high bed and drop my brush into my bag. “Toss me a sharpening stone.”

“They suspect.” He reaches into the top right drawer of his desk, taking out the heavy, gray sharpening stone. He leans over to hand it to me, careful not to brush his fingers along mine, and then goes back to tinkering with his weapon.

“Thank you.” I grip the stone, then take the first knife from my thigh sheath and begin sharpening. They’re only as good as they are honed. But no amount of busying my hands is going to make the next question any easier to ask without feeling like I’m now the one keeping things from Xaden.

I choose my words carefully. “When we were at the lake, before Resson, you said the only thing that can kill a venin is what powers the wards.”

“Yes.” He leans back in his chair, one eyebrow raised, his bow forgotten. “The daggers are made of the material that powers the wards,” I guess.

“The alloy Brennan mentioned.”

Xaden opens the bottom drawer and moves some things around before pulling out a replica of the dagger I used to kill the venin on Tairn’s back. He walks over to me and holds it out, hilt first.

I take it from his hand, and the weight and hum of power coming from the blade are instantly nauseating—whether from the energy or the memory of the last time I held one, I’m unsure. Either way, I breathe deeply and remind myself I’m not on Tairn’s back. There’s no one trying to kill me or him. I’m in Xaden’s bedroom. Xaden’s very warded bedroom. Safe. No safer place on the Continent, really.

The blade itself is silver, sharpened on both edges, and the hilt is the same matte black of the one I used in Resson, the same that had been in my mother’s desk last year. I run my finger along the medallion in the hilt that’s a duller gray and decorated with a rune.

“That piece is the alloy.” He sits next to me on the bed. “The metal in the hilt. It’s a specific blend of materials smelted into what you see there. It’s not power in itself, but it’s capable of…holding power. The wards themselves originate from the Vale, near Basgiath, but they only reach so far. These”—he taps the medallion—“hold extra power to boost the wards and extend them. The more material, the stronger the wards. There’s an entire armory of them downstairs, boosting the wards. The details are classified, but that’s why outposts are placed strategically, to keep our borders from developing weak points.”

“But how could the wards ever falter if these power them constantly?” I brush my thumb over the alloy, and my own power rises, charging the air.

“Because they only hold so much power. Once it’s used, it has to be imbued again.”

“Hold on. Imbued with power?”

“Yes. Imbuing is a process of leaving power in stasis, in an object. A rider has to pour their own power into it, which is a skill not a lot of us have.” He glances meaningfully at me. “And don’t ask. We’re not getting into how that works tonight.”

“Have they always been placed in daggers?”

He shakes his head. “No. That started right before the rebellion. My guess is Melgren had a vision of how an upcoming battle is going to go and these were central to his victory. Once Sgaeyl chose me at Threshing, we started to work to smuggle out a few daggers at a time to supply what drifts we could make friendly contact with.”

“Aretia needs a forge to smelt the alloy, to make more weapons.”

“Yes. It takes a dragon to fire a crucible, which we have, and a luminary to intensify dragonfire hot enough to smelt,” he says.

I nod, staring at the thumb-size medallion. How can something so small be the key to our entire continent’s survival? “So you just put the alloy into a dagger and get an instant venin killer?”

A smile tugs at his mouth. “It’s a little more complicated than that.”

“What do you think came first?” I ask, studying the dagger. “The wards?

Or the ability to boost them? Or are they intertwined?”

“That’s all classified.” He takes the dagger back and returns it to the desk drawer. “So how about we work on your shields instead of worrying about Navarre’s?”

I yawn. “I’m tired.”

“Aetos won’t care.” He slides into my mind easily.

“Fine.” I lean back, bracing my weight on my palms, and build my mental shields quickly, block by block. “Do your worst.”

His smile makes me regret the challenge.

You'll Also Like