Chapter no 17

Iron Flame (The Empyrean Book 2)

“Bodhi can’t keep moving maneuvers for our section, or more teachers than Varrish are going to notice,” Imogen says on Wednesday as we

walk toward Battle Brief, moving up the main staircase in a sea of black.

“Tairn is going to the Empyrean about Andarna, but absolutely nothing can be done until she wakes from the Dreamless Sleep anyway.”

She sighs. “How are things with Xaden?”

I nearly trip on the last step before the doorway. “You want to talk about my relationship with Xaden now?”

“I’m only giving you however long it takes us to reach the Battle Brief room.” Her face puckers like she’s tasted something sour. “So if you need to…talk, this is your chance, since I’ve noticed you’re still icing your friends out, which is a mistake.”

Well, in that case.

“One, Xaden told me to keep my distance if I couldn’t lie to them, and two, between the land nav course—which we failed—and his duty schedule, I think leadership is keeping us apart as a punishment for not producing Andarna. And it’s coded, but he says the same in the letter he left on his bed for me.” A letter that quickly became my favorite because it delves into what his life had been like before the rebellion. It also makes me wonder what he’d be like if that was still the reality he was living in.

“That’s just…weird,” Imogen says, her brow furrowing as her gaze scans the hallway for threats.

“It is.” I do the same, watching every pair of hands I can see. “The timing of the last two weeks is just too coincidental for it not to be on purpose.”

“Oh no, that part is completely understandable.” She side-eyes me. “Separating you two would be my first move if I was in a position of power. On your own, you’re both capable of terrifying things with those signets. Together? You’re a fucking menace. I mean it’s weird that he’s writing you letters.”

“Why? I think it’s…sweet.”

“Exactly. Does he strike you as a letters kind of guy?” She shakes her head. “He’s not even a talking kind of guy.”

“We’re trying to work on our communication.” It comes out a touch defensive.

“You’re eventually going to let him off the hook for keeping you in the dark, aren’t you?” She shoots me a look that says she clearly thinks I should and pulls two hairpins from her pocket. “Better answer quickly. We’re almost there.”

“Can you love someone who refuses to be open with you?” I challenge. “One,” she blatantly mimics me, “we’re not talking about my love life. I

have Quinn—my actual friend—for that.” She pins back the longest section of her pink hair with quick, efficient movements. “Two, we keep information classified all the time. You’d have the same problem with any rider you dated.”

“That’s not…” Fine, she has a point, but she’s missing mine. “All right, let’s say that you’re with someone, and one day a battle-ax comes hurtling out of his armoire—”

“An armoire? I really wish you’d go back to confiding in Rhiannon.” She shakes her head.

“—and nearly kills you. Wouldn’t you demand to see the rest of the armoire to make sure there are no other battle-axes poised to strike before getting back together with them?” We’re almost to the lecture hall.

“There’s always a battle-ax.” As we pass the doorway, she nods to Eya, who is chatting with Bodhi, and my eyes flare at her black eye and what looks to be a broken nose.

“Because that’s normal?”

“You didn’t want normal. If you did, you’d be in a relationship with Aetos.” She shudders. “Or hell, anyone else in this place. But you wanted Riorson. If you didn’t think the man was hiding more than a few battle-axes, then you’re mad at the wrong person, because you lied to yourself.”

I open and shut my mouth as we funnel through the wide doors into the Battle Brief room. Without windows to let the hot sun in, the hall is a welcome refuge from the sticky August heat.

“Oh, look, our time is up.” She sighs in obvious relief. “Helpful.” I miss talking to Rhi.

“You want actual, meaningful advice?” She takes my elbow and tugs me to the side of the staircase, where the third-years stand. “Fine. Everyone fails land nav the first time. We’re egotistical assholes who can’t handle being wrong. The instructor just wants you to feel bad about it, which is clearly working. Not to mention that you have bigger issues to worry about than a man, like how you’re going to survive the rest of RSC, including the interrogation portions where they will beat the shit out of you for fun, or like, I don’t know…going to war. And you asked if I wanted to talk about your relationship, which implies that you damn well know you’re still in one—”

I bristle. “That’s not—”

“I’m still speaking.” A third-year from First Wing gets too close, and she shoves his shoulder. “You don’t have to freeze out everyone you can’t be completely honest with just because Riorson thinks that works for him—it doesn’t, hence all of your issues, and it damn well looks like your friend needs you, so go.” She motions toward the staircase behind me, and I turn, catching sight of Rhi leaning against the wall.

Worry pinches her features as she reads the parchment she’s clutching next to Tara, oblivious to the cadets passing by on the wide staircase.

I start down the steps, dodging more than one overeager first-year on my way to Rhi.

“I’m sure it’s nothing.” Tara rubs Rhi’s shoulder as I reach them. “Show it to Markham after brief. I’m going to get going.” She tucks her black hair behind her ears and smiles again when she sees me. “Hi, Violet.”

“Hi, Tara.” I wave as she leaves, making her way to First Wing’s seats. “Everything all right, Rhi?” I ask, knowing she has every right to shut me out the way I’ve done to her.

“I don’t know.” She hands me the parchment. “I got this with a letter from my parents this morning. They said they’re circulating around the village.”

I open it, and my eyes widen for a heartbeat before I school my expression. It’s the size of the public announcements the scribes nail to posts in every village in Navarre, but there’s no official announcement number at the top.


“What the hell?” I mutter softly.

“My thoughts exactly,” she replies. “Read the rest.”


“‘Your kindness could kill,’” I repeat quietly as cadets shuffle past. “And

what border violations?”

“What do we have here?” Markham says, snatching the paper from my hands.

“It came from my village,” Rhi explains.

“So it did.” He glances up at me and then over to Rhiannon. “Thank you for bringing this to class.” He continues down the stairs without another word.

“I’m so sorry,” I say to Rhi.

“Not your fault,” she replies. “And I would have taken it to him after class anyway. If anyone could explain that, it would be him.”

“Of course.” I force a smile. “Let’s take our seats.”

We make our way to the seats beside Ridoc and Sawyer, then take out our things.

“How are your parents?” I ask Rhi, trying to make the transition sound natural.

“Good.” She smiles softly. “Their shop is booming right now, since they moved another company of infantry into Montserrat.”

I blink. That puts the outpost at more than capacity.

“Good morning,” Markham says, his voice booming over the hall as he holds up the paper from Rhiannon’s letter. “Today we’re going to talk about the battles that aren’t quite so obvious. One of your classmates received this notice.” He reads it aloud, his intonation changing what’s obviously a warning to a passionate plea.

Professor Devera stands with her arms crossed, her eyes downcast as he finishes reading.

“This is a regional notice,” Markham explains, “which is why it does not carry a public announcement number. We have seen an alarming number of attempted border crossings in our mountain villages near our most strategic outposts. Why is this dangerous?”

My grip on my pen tightens. Are the Poromish civilians fleeing a new offensive? Nausea rolls through my stomach. Wards could protect so many more people, but I’m no closer to an answer than I was when we got back to Basgiath from Aretia. Every book I’ve read mentions the glorious accomplishment, but none say how it was accomplished. If the answer is in the Archives, then it’s well hidden.

“Because we can’t know their intentions,” a first-year answers. “It’s why we keep our borders closed.”

Markham nods.

But when did we close our borders? As soon as we unified? Or closer to 400 AU, when I think we wiped the history from the books? I shift in my seat as power rises in direct proportion to my frustration. Answers are

supposed to follow questions. That’s how my life has always worked. Until now, there’s never been a question I couldn’t answer after a few hours in the Archives, and now I’m not sure I can trust any answers I do find there. Nothing makes sense.

My fingertips buzz, and heat quickly follows.

“Silver One.” There’s a note of warning in Tairn’s tone.

“I know.” I breathe deeply and fight to shove the feelings back into the neat little box that holds all my inconvenient emotions, tugging my shields tight around me.

“This could be a new tactic,” a third-year calls out from behind us. “Infiltrating our outposts under false pretenses.”

“Exactly.” Markham nods again.

Devera shifts her weight and then lifts her chin, looking up at us. Does she know? Gods, I want her not to know. I want her to be as good of a person as I think she is. What about Kaori? Emetterio? Grady? Are any of my professors actually trustworthy?

“What’s more disturbing is the propaganda these Poromish people bring with them, falsified announcements from their own leadership of cities destroyed in what they claim to be violent attacks.” He pauses, like he’s debating telling us the rest, but I know it’s for dramatics. “Attacks they claim come from dragons.”

Fucking. Liar. Heat stains my cheeks, and I quickly avert my gaze when he looks my way. The buzzing rises to a hum as energy gathers, pushing at my skin, looking for an outlet.

A disgruntled murmur rises from the cadets around me.

“As if dragons would ruin cities,” Rhiannon mutters, shaking her head. They wouldn’t, but wyvern would…and do.

Markham sighs. “This notice does not mean we are without compassion. In fact, for the first time in hundreds of years, we authorized classified missions— now completed, of course—to reconnoiter those very cities.”

My pen casing groans and power ripples along my skin, lifting the hair on my forearm.

“Are you all right?” Rhiannon asks.


“You sure about that?” She stares pointedly at my hand.

And the tendril of smoke rising from the pen. I drop it, then rub my hands together, like that’s going to help dispel the energy coursing through my body.

“Those assigned riots have reported back that the cities inside Poromiel are intact, leading us to the same conclusion you’ve drawn—this is a new tactic that plays on our compassion.” He says it with such certainty that I nearly applaud his acting. “Professor Devera?”

She clears her throat. “I read the reports this morning. There was no destruction mentioned.”

Whose reports? The scribes can’t be trusted.

“There you have it.” Markham shakes his head. “I think this is a good time to focus our discussion on the efficiency of propaganda and the role civilians play in supporting a war effort. Lies are powerful tools.”

He would know.

Somehow, I make it through the rest of the briefing without setting the map on fire, then pack my things in a hurry and force my way past the other cadets to get the hell out of there as quickly as possible.

I break into a run down the hallway, pulling the straps of my heavy pack tight so it doesn’t slam into my spine when I race down the steps. Agonizing heat spirals tight, building in preparation to strike, and when I finally push through the doors into the courtyard, I stumble forward and throw up my hands to release it.

Power rips through me and lightning strikes near the outer walls, far enough away that the flying gravel only impacts the wall.

I feel Tairn hovering on the edge of my mind, but he doesn’t lecture.

“Violet?” Rhiannon steps in front of me, her chest heaving from obviously having run after me.

“I’m fine,” I lie. Gods, that’s getting so fucking easy, and it’s the one thing she asked me not to do.

“Obviously.” She gestures to the courtyard.

“I have to go.” Step by step, I back away from her, a knot the size of the entire quadrant forming in my throat. “I’ll be late for RSC. Will you take notes?”

“Because that’s definitely the class you should be late for,” she says sarcastically. “What could possibly be more important than learning interrogation techniques?”

I shake my head, then pivot and run before I tell another lie. Into the dormitory. Down the steps. Through the tunnels. Across the bridge. Into the Healer Quadrant. I don’t stop running until I’m almost to the Archives, and then only my body slows, not my thoughts.

The guard stands but doesn’t challenge my right to walk straight past the large, circular door and into the Archives. Paper and glue and Dad. The scent fills my lungs, and the knot in my throat loosens as my heartbeat calms.

Until I realize at least two hundred scribes are seated at the tables, and every single one of them is staring at me. Then the organ beating in my chest picks up the pace again.

What in Amari’s name am I doing?

“You’ve apparently lost all common sense with your control and regressed to where you think you can locate it,” Tairn growls.

Fair point. Not that I’m telling him that.

“Just did.”

A tall figure in cream robes turns in her seat and looks me up and down. “The Archives are not open to riders at this hour.”

“I know.” I nod. And yet I’m here.

“What can we do for you?” the professor asks in a tone that suggests I find somewhere else to be.

“I just need…” What? To return the book I shouldn’t have?

Three rows back, a scribe stands, then walks forward, shooting me an incredulous look before lifting her hands to sign toward her professor. Jesinia.

The professor nods, and Jesinia heads my way, her eyes flaring in unspoken what-the-fuck as she approaches.

“I’m sorry,” I sign.

She turns to my right in front of the study table, and I follow, noting that the stacks block us from the class’s view. “What are you doing?” she signs. “You can’t be here right now.”

“I know. I accidentally ended up here.” I slip my pack from my shoulders and rummage through for the book, handing it over to her like this was some planned meeting.

She glances from me to the book, then sighs and steps back a few feet, cringing when she slides the book onto a shelf it absolutely doesn’t belong on. “You look upset.”

“I’m sorry,” I repeat. “Are you going to be in trouble?”

“Of course not. I told her you are an impatient, arrogant rider, and it would be less disruptive to our studies if I helped you, all of which is true.” She glances toward the end of the stacks. “This couldn’t wait until Saturday?”

I start to nod, then shake my head. “I need to read faster.”

She studies my expression, and two lines appear between her eyebrows. “I asked what you were looking for, but I should have asked what will happen if you don’t find it.”

“People will die.” My stomach sinks lower with every word I sign. “That’s all I can say.”

She sits with that for a few seconds. “Have you at least told your squadmates whatever it is you’re too scared to tell me?”

“No.” I hesitate, struggling to find the words. “I can’t let anyone else die because of me. I’ve already put you in too much danger.”

“You gave me a choice. Don’t you think they deserve the same?” She levels a disappointed look on me when I don’t answer. “I’ll bring you a new selection tonight. Meet me on the bridge at eight.” She steps into my space. “Saturdays, Violet. Or you’ll get us caught.”

I nod. “Thank you.”

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