Chapter no 13

Iron Flame (The Empyrean Book 2)

“You wouldn’t happen to know how to raise wards, would you?” I ask Tairn as we approach Basgiath from the southeast the next day,

squinting into the afternoon sun. The headwind added an extra couple of hours onto the flight, making my hips protest and almost outright rebel.

“Despite what you may assume, I am not six hundred years old.” “Figured I’d ask, just in case you were holding back secret dragon


“I’m always holding back secret dragon knowledge, but wards are not among it.” His shoulders tense, rising slightly, and the beats of his wings slow. “We’re being ordered to the practice grounds. Carr and Varrish are waiting.”

My stomach plummets even though our altitude hasn’t changed. “He threatened he’d be pondering my punishment for not forcing Andarna to participate in maneuvers. I should have taken his warning more seriously.”

Tairn’s low growl vibrates through his entire body. “What are your wishes?”

“Not sure I get a choice.” A deep sense of foreboding crawls into my throat.

“There is always a choice.” He maintains direction even though he’ll have to bank soon to change course to the practice grounds.

I can handle whatever he wants to punish me with if it means keeping Andarna safe.

“We go.”

An hour later, I’m not so sure I’m handling anything as much as I am


“Again,” Professor Carr orders, his thin white hair flopping with every gust of wind as we stand on the mountain peak we use when training my signet.

And to think…this is only a warning.

Fatigue washes over me again, but I know better than to complain. I’d made that mistake somewhere around strike twenty-five, and it had only added another mark to the tab Professor Carr was keeping in his notebook while Major Varrish supervised from his side.

“Again, Cadet Sorrengail.” Varrish repeats the command, smiling at me like he’s simply exchanging pleasantries. Their dragons, Breugan and Solas, stand as far back as possible without falling off the mountain. Tairn had lunged for their necks, snapped, and pulled back with inches to spare around strike thirteen. It was the first time I’d ever seen dragons scurry. “Unless you’d rather spend the foreseeable future in the brig.”

Tairn’s chest rumbles in a low growl as he stands behind me, his claws digging into the bare rock of the mountaintop. There’s only so much he can do, though. While he’s bound by the Empyrean, I have to follow the rules of the quadrant or risk the brig—and I’d rather bring down a thousand lightning strikes than spend one night locked in a cage at Varrish’s mercy.

When I don’t move, Carr sends me a pleading look, his gaze darting to Varrish.

I sigh but lift my hands, my arms trembling as I reach for Tairn’s power. Then, I ground my feet in the mental construct of the Archives in my mind so I don’t slip away into the fire that threatens to consume me. Swift and fast, the power rises again, and sweat beads on my face and drips down my spine as I struggle to control it.

Anger. Lust. Fear. It’s always the most extreme of my emotions that bring on the strikes. It’s rage that fuels me now as I summon that sizzling

hot energy and release it, cracking open the sky with another lightning strike that hits a nearby peak.

“Thirty-two.” Carr jots it down.

There’s no care for if I can aim. Not a single consideration for mastery or strength. Their only goal here is to wear me down, while mine is to hold on to whatever scraps of self-control I can muster so I don’t wake Andarna.

“Again,” Varrish orders.

Gods, my body feels like it’s cooking itself alive. I reach for the buttons on my flight jacket and yank them open, letting some of the infernal heat escape.

“Violet?” Andarna asks sleepily.

Guilt slams into me harder than a lightning strike. “I’m fine,” I promise her.

“Waking is dangerous to the growth process,” Tairn lectures. “Sleep.” “What’s happening?” She’s alarmingly alert now.

“Nothing I can’t handle.” Not quite a lie. Right?

“I’ve never seen her produce more than twenty-six strikes in an hour, Major. She’s at risk of overheating and burning out if you continue to push like this,” Carr says to Varrish.

“She can take it just fine.” He looks at me like he knows. Like he was there at Resson, watching me hurl bolt after bolt at the wyvern. If he’s the picture of control, then maybe I should be glad I don’t seem to have any.

“All it takes is her slipping in her grounding, or exhausting her physically, and she will burn out,” Carr warns, his gaze shifting nervously. “Punishing her for insubordination is one thing, but killing her is quite another.”

“Again.” Varrish lifts his brows at me. “Unless your golden one would like to fly up and say hello, since she failed to appear as ordered. If she joins us, we’ll only task you with three more.”

“This is about me?”

My shoulders drop and my stomach hits the ground.

“This is an example of what happens when dragons choose poorly,”

Tairn counters. “Solas should never have given this barbarian more


“I don’t want to submit her for tests or anything barbaric,” Varrish cajoles, as though he’d heard Tairn’s words. “I just want her to understand that she is not above the structure of command.”

“I fucking hate him,” I tell Tairn.

“I can feel this draining you! I’ll come—” Andarna starts.

“You’ll do no such thing, or you risk every feathertail in the Vale,” I remind her. “Do you want someone who takes joy in the pain of others like Varrish bonding a hatchling?”

Andarna growls in pure frustration.

Tairn angles his wing, directing the cooling wind over my scalding skin. “Well?” Varrish asks, tugging his cloak around him as steam rises from

my body.

Tairn snarls.

“Humans do not command dragons, and that includes you.” I lift my impossibly heavy arms and reach for power again.

Around strike forty, my knees buckle and I crumple to the hard rock. The ground rushes up at me, and I throw out my hands, sending pain shooting through my left shoulder as the joint partially subluxates from the impact. My mouth waters from the instant nausea, but I cradle my left arm and force myself to my knees just to take the weight off the joint.

Extending his neck, Tairn roars so loudly at Varrish and Carr that the notebook blows out of Carr’s hands and tumbles down the mountain, vanishing from sight.

“Silver One is done!” he shouts.

“They can’t hear you,” I remind him, breathing through the pain.

“Their dragons can.”

“If she dies, you will summon the wrath of not only General Sorrengail but General Melgren. Her signet is the weapon generals dream of in this war.” Carr glances between Varrish and me. “And if that’s not enough to encourage a degree of caution, Vice Commandant, then remember her death will cost you two of the most powerful dragons on the Continent and Lieutenant Riorson’s irreplaceable ability to wield shadows.”

“Ah yes, that pesky mating bond.” Varrish clicks his tongue and cocks his head to the side, studying me like I’m nothing but an experiment for him to play with. “One more. Just to prove that you can listen to orders if your dragon will not.”

“Silver One—”

“I can do it.” I stumble to my feet and pray my shoulder will hold if I tuck my elbow in tight to my body. For Andarna, for the other hatchlings protected in the Vale, I can do it.

My muscles shake and cramp, and my shoulder screams as though there’s a dagger in the joint, but I raise my palms and reach for Tairn’s power anyway. I make the connection and let the energy flood through me one more time.

I wield, and lightning crashes.

But my arms cramp as the strike hits the nearest peak, the muscles twisting and bunching in an unnatural way, causing me to physically hold the power I usually release right away.

Fuck! I can’t let it go!

“Silver One!” Tairn shouts.

Power lashes through me, extending the strike, which cleaves a section from the northernmost ridgeline ahead of me. The rock crashes down the mountain’s slope, and still the lightning flows like an incandescent blade, cutting away the terrain.

I can’t move. Can’t drop my hands. Can’t even twitch my fingers. This is going to kill me.

Tairn. Sgaeyl. Xaden. It’s going to kill us all. Fear and pain roll into one, seizing my mind with the one emotion I can’t afford—panic.

“Cut it off mentally!” Tairn bellows as the strike goes on and on, and in the distance I hear Andarna cry.

My very bones catch fire, and a scream rips from my throat as I shove mentally at the doors to my Archives.

The strike ends, and I stagger backward, falling against Tairn’s foreleg and crumpling between his talons. Every breath is a struggle.

Carr swallows. Hard. “We’re done for the day.”

I couldn’t stand if I wanted to.

Varrish examines the destruction I caused and turns toward me. “Fascinating. You’ll both be indispensable once you come to heel.” He turns then, his cloak billowing in the wind as he walks to Solas. “This is the only warning you’ll get, Cadet Sorrengail.”

The threat hits like a punch to the stomach, but I can’t think around the blistering heat.

Carr hikes over, then puts the back of his hand against my forehead and hisses. “You’re burning up.” He glances at Tairn. “Tell your dragon to carry you directly to the courtyard. You won’t make it from the flight field. Get food and a cold bath.” There’s something suspiciously close to sympathy in his eyes as he looks me over. “And while I agree that we do not command dragons, perhaps you could talk Andarna into making an appearance. You are a rare, powerful signet, Cadet Sorrengail. It would be a travesty to use your training sessions in this manner again.”

I’m not a signet. I’m a person. But I’m too damned hot, too tired to make the words form. Not that it matters—he doesn’t see me that way. Carr never has. To him, we are the sum of our powers and nothing more. My chest heaves, but even the cool air of the mountaintop can’t touch the burn sizzling in my veins.

Tairn wraps his claw around me, securing a talon under each arm to lock my limp body into position, then launches, leaving Carr beneath us on the peak.

We’re airborne in an instant. Or maybe it’s an hour. Time has no meaning. It’s all just pain, beckoning me to let go, to release my soul from the prison of my body.

“You will not let go,” he orders as we fly toward Basgiath, moving faster than I’ve ever felt him go before. The air rushing by feels so damned good, but it’s not enough to reach the furnace in my lungs or the molten marrow of my bones.

Mountains and valleys pass under me in a blur before I recognize the walls of the quadrant, but Tairn blows by the courtyard and then plummets to the valley below.

The river. Water. Cold. Clear. Water.

“I’ve already called for support.”

My stomach lurches as he pulls up to a hover at the last second, my body swaying from the change in momentum.

“Hold your breath.” It’s his only warning before water covers me from head to toe, gushing with bone-crushing force, icy from the last of the summer runoff. The contrast threatens to crack every part of me, to peel me away layer by searing layer.

I’ve lived with pain my entire life, but this agony is beyond my capability to endure.

Soundlessly, I scream, air gushing from my lungs as I dangle from Tairn’s claw, the water forcing the heat from my body, saving me with the same pummeling blows that tear at my skin.

Tairn yanks my head above water, and I gasp for breath.

“Almost there,” he tells me, holding me in the rapids.

The water beats at me mercilessly but lowers the temperature of my body until the last of the flames in my bones extinguish.

“Violet!” someone bellows from the shoreline. My teeth chatter as my pulse slows.

“There.” Tairn walks to the bank—I hadn’t even realized he’d been standing in the river with me—and deposits me in the long summer grass beneath the row of trees that grow along the Iakobos.

I lie limp, fighting for the energy to take my next breath as my heart beats slower and slower. Summoning all my energy, I force my lungs to expand, to draw in air.

“Violet!” Imogen calls out from somewhere to the right, then falls to her knees beside me a moment later. “What the hell happened to you?”

“Too. Many. Strikes.” A rough blanket lands on my shoulders as I shake, water dripping from my nose, my chin, the unbuttoned edges of my flight jacket, which miraculously made the trip, too. Bone-shattering cold has replaced all the heat, but I’m breathing normally again at least.

“Oh shit.” Bodhi settles at my other side, reaching for my shoulders, then retreating.

“You’re so…red.” That’s Eya. I think.

“Glane says it’s burnout,” Imogen says, her hand surprisingly gentle on my back. “Tairn called for her. What do we do, Violet? You’re the only lightning wielder I know.”

“I. Just need.” I twist to the side, my legs curling under me, the words punctuated by the chatter of my teeth against one another. “A minute.” I look up at the trunk of the familiar sprawling oak tree in front of me and concentrate on holding myself together.

“Cuir says she needs food now that she’s cooled down,” Bodhi adds. “A green would know,” Eya says with certainty. “Food it is.”

“How did this happen?” Imogen asks. “Carr?” I nod. “And Varrish.”

Bodhi’s warm brown face appears in front of mine. “Fuck.” He tugs the edges of the blanket closed around me. “This is because of Andarna?”


Bodhi’s eyes widen.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Imogen’s voice rises. “He used your signet as a punishment for Andarna not showing for flight maneuvers?”

“That asshole,” Eya seethes, shoving a hand through her dark hair as she exchanges a look with Bodhi.

After a minute, I find the strength to hold the blanket myself. At least my muscles are working again. Longing rips through me as I stare up at the tree, its wide trunk, which I know bears the scar from two knife marks.

I want Xaden.

It’s illogical. He couldn’t have stopped Varrish. I don’t need his protection. I don’t need him to carry me back to the dorms. I just…want him. He’s the only person I want to talk to about what happened on that mountain.

“I think we need to get her back to the dorms,” Imogen says.

“I’ll handle it,” Bodhi promises, capturing my gaze. “This won’t happen to you again.”

“Tell the humans that I will handle dragon matters,” Tairn says.


“You will trust me.” It’s an order.

“Tairn says he’ll take care of it.” I rock forward and force myself to my feet. Bodhi catches my shoulders gently, wincing when I grimace. “I’m ready. Let’s go.”

“Can you walk?” he asks.

I nod, looking past him to the tree. “I miss him,” I whisper. “Yeah. Me too.”

No one carries me. They simply stay at my side, step by step, as we make our way up the hundreds of stairs that spiral through the foundation walls and back to the dorms, our footsteps the only sound breaking the silence around us.

Because no one wants to say what we’re all thinking… If Andarna doesn’t show up at the next formation, Varrish’s second punishment might just kill me.

“You get your running landing yet?” Imogen asks on Friday.

Sloane is thrown to the mat again, and we wince from the side of the gym, our backs to the wall so no one can sneak up behind us. Sloane’s back has none of that protection and is going to be black and blue tomorrow.

Unlike Rhiannon, who’s in here leading the extra sparring time she negotiated for all of our squad’s first-years against some others from Third Wing, Imogen and I are here in full uniform between classes for only one reason—Sloane—and her terrifying lack of skill. We were hoping to see that she’s improved over the week. She hasn’t.

“Tairn won’t let me out of the saddle,” I say quietly, like he isn’t constantly in my head since my near burnout on the mountaintop.

“I heard that,” he grumbles.

“Only because you’re listening.” When shifting my weight doesn’t help, I take a step off the wall to relieve the pressure on my tight, red skin. At

least the physical remnant of my near burnout has dimmed to nothing more painful than a sunburn, but it’s annoying as hell.

“Strengthen your shields and perhaps you won’t require monitoring.”

“Not completing maneuvers? Refusing to bring Andarna to class?” Imogen gasps with mock surprise. “Aren’t you just becoming the little rebel?” Her gaze darts over my face, then drops to my neck. “Your friends still think you lost control during a training session?”

I nod. “If they knew what really happened, they wouldn’t leave my side.”

“You’d be safer,” she notes.

“They wouldn’t be.” End of subject.

“Keep your eyes on your opponent!” Rhi shouts at Sloane from the sidelines just as Sloane does the opposite, glancing down as she nears the edge of the mat, and that’s all her opponent needs, the first-year landing a jaw-cracking punch that sends Sloane sprawling.

Imogen and I both flinch.

“This is sparring, not a challenge! Come on, Tomas!” Rhi snaps at a squad leader from Second Wing.

“Sorry, Rhi. Pull it back, Jacek,” the squad leader chides.

“Damn.” Imogen shakes her head and folds her arms. “I get that Jacek’s channeling some serious anger, but I’ve never seen him hit that hard.”

“Jacek? Like Navil Jacek?” The second-year from Third Wing Jesinia and I saw hauled away by Markham was listed on the death roll a couple of days ago.

“That’s his younger brother on the mat,” Imogen says.

“Shit.” Now I feel bad for the guy, even though Sloane is in a similar situation. “I think Markham had him killed,” I whisper.

“Because he didn’t return a book on time?” Imogen’s eyebrows rise.

“I think he asked for something he shouldn’t have, and yes, I know that sounds absolutely ridiculous, but there’s no other explanation for him being found in his room, beaten to death.”

“Right,” Imogen muses. “That only makes sense if he’s one of us.”

To others, it fits in with what Panchek is calling a particularly brutal start to the year. I’m the only one in our group who hasn’t had another attempt made on their life.

“You’d better be really careful around your little robed friend if scribes are running out there ordering the death of riders.”

“Jesinia isn’t a threat,” I protest, but my words die in my throat as I remember that it was her report that got Jacek taken in the first place.

“Let’s end it,” the squad leader from Second Wing suggests after Sloane gets knocked to the mat again.

“I’m fine!” Sloane staggers to her feet, wiping blood from her mouth with the back of her hand.

“Are you sure?” Rhi asks, her tone implying it’s absolutely the wrong decision, which we all know it is.

“Definitely.” Sloane takes a fighting stance against Jacek.

“Glutton for punishment, that one,” Imogen says. “It’s like she wants to have the shit kicked out of her.”

“I don’t understand.” Aaric shifts ahead of me, his back blocking the view, and I maneuver to see the mat. “I thought everyone marked was trained to fight.”

“Depends on where we were fostered.” Imogen moves forward with me. “And after Xaden started to climb the ranks…well, some of the families in charge stopped training us, according to what I’m hearing from the first-years. Good thing she wasn’t on the challenge board this week.”

Jacek puts Sloane on the mat for what feels like the hundredth time, then brings his knee to her throat, making his point. If this were real, she’d be in a world of trouble.

“Her first is on Monday, and she’s going to have her ass handed to her if not worse.” I unsheathe a dagger and flip it, catching it by the tip, like my skills can in any way help her when she won’t even speak to me.

“Monday?” Imogen turns slowly to look at me. “And how would you know that?”

Shit. Well, it’s not like she isn’t already holding almost every secret that could get me killed. “Long story, but…a book my brother wrote.”

“Who is Sloane up against?” She pivots back toward the mat. “You’re not going to ask about the book I shouldn’t have?”

“No. I, unlike some people, don’t feel the need to know everything someone else deems private.”

I scoff at the obvious dig. “Yeah, well, you’re not sleeping with me.”

“You wish you were my type. I’m phenomenal in bed.” Her nose scrunches when Sloane face-plants into the mat. “Seriously. Who is she against?”

“Someone she can’t beat.” A first-year from Third Wing who moves like she’s been sparring since birth. It had taken me the better part of an hour to find someone who could point the girl out earlier in the gym.

“I’ve offered to help her,” Imogen says quietly. “She won’t take it.”

“Why the hell not?” I catch my knife, flipping it with total muscle memory.

Imogen sighs. “No fucking clue, but her stubbornness is going to get her killed.”

I watch Liam’s sister struggle under Jacek’s weight, her face splotchy and red from the exertion, and blow out a slow, resigned breath, my fist closing around the hilt of the dagger. The unspoken rule of the quadrant is to let the strong weed out the weak before they can become a liability to the wing. As a rider, I should walk away. I should let Sloane rise or fall on her own merits. But as Liam’s friend, there’s no way I can stand by and watch her die. “Not on Monday, she won’t.”

“You suddenly develop Melgren’s signet over there?” Imogen retorts, tucking a chin-length strand of pink hair behind her ear.

“I’m calling it!” Rhi shouts, ending the match, and I breathe a sigh of relief.

“Not exactly.” Glancing around the gym, I locate Sloane’s opponent for Monday. “I just need to do a couple of things after physics, but I’ll see you for our gym session tonight.” What muscles I have are all due to Imogen’s dedication to torturing me at the weight machines since last year.

“How is that class going for you, anyway?” Imogen asks with a sarcastic smile, damn well knowing that I couldn’t make it through without

Rhiannon’s help. I might lead our year in history, geography, and every other subject that crosses over with the scribes, but physics? Not my specialty.

“Hey, Vi—” A hand curls over the top of my shoulder from behind me, and my heart surges, beating painfully in my ears.

Not again.

Muscle memory takes over as I spin around, dislodging the grip, and push my left forearm against a leather-clad chest, catching the assailant off-balance and allowing me to shove him the few inches backward into the wall while whipping my dagger to his tattooed throat in one instinctual motion.

“Hey, hey!” Ridoc’s eyes bulge as he throws his hands up, palms outward. “Violet!”

I blink quickly as the knot in his throat bobs, scraping the edge of my blade.

Ridoc. It’s not an assassin. It’s just Ridoc.

Adrenaline pours into my system, and my hand trembles slightly as I lower the weapon. “Sorry,” I mumble.

“For nearly dissecting my jugular?” Ridoc sidesteps before lowering his hands. “I knew you were fast, but damn.

Mortification deprives me of words as heat rushes into my face. I nearly slit my friend’s throat. Somehow, I find the sheath.

“You should know better than to sneak up on someone,” Imogen lectures, her calm tone at odds with the knife she clutches in her left hand.

“I’m sorry. Won’t do it again,” he promises, his gaze shifting to worry as he glances over my shoulder. “I just figured I’d see if you wanted to walk to physics. Sawyer’s already by the door.”

“Everything all right?” Rhi asks, walking to my side as she slips her satchel over her shoulder.

“All good,” Imogen answers. “You’re doing a great job as squad leader, by the way. It was a good idea to get the first-years extra sparring time.”

“Thanks?” Rhi stares at Imogen like she’s grown a second nose.

“See you tonight.” Imogen sheathes her knife and looks at me with more understanding than I want either of us to have as she backs away. “I’m going to offer my help to Mairi. Again.”

I nod.

“You sure everything is good?” Rhi asks as I pick up my pack from the floor and nearly drop it with my jitters. Stupid fucking adrenaline.

“Perfect.” I force the fakest smile known to humankind. “Let’s go to physics. Yay physics.”

Rhi exchanges a look with Ridoc.

“She’s probably just nervous about the quiz, and I didn’t help by startling her like a jackass.” He rubs the skin of his throat as we start toward the door, where Sawyer waits.

Rhiannon’s mouth drops open for a second. “Violet! I thought you said you had it down? We could have studied again this morning. I can’t help you if you don’t tell me you need help.”

Isn’t that the truth.

“Just remember, you need two out of three elements when pulling any flight maneuver,” she recites as Sawyer takes a bite out of an apple and opens the gym door for us. “Velocity, power, or…”

I scan the first floor of the academic wing as we walk down the hall, my gaze scouring every alcove, every classroom door for someone who might jump out at us.


Wrenching my focus from the stairwell ahead, I find Rhi giving me an expectant look. Right. She’s asking me about physics and aerodynamics.

“Altitude,” Sawyer answers.

“Right.” I nod as we step into the stairwell. “Altitude.” “You’re killing me—” Rhiannon starts.

“Now!” someone shouts from behind us.

Before I can react, a bag is thrown over my head, and with one breath, I’m unconscious.

You'll Also Like