Chapter no 20

Iron Flame (The Empyrean Book 2)

The ground rushes up at us as Tairn flares his wings, slowing our descent as we land on the field at Samara. “We will figure something else out,”

Tairn argues.

“Even if you move to my shoulder and successfully slide to perch…” He shudders.

We’ve spent the better part of the last two hours arguing over whether or not I would ever attempt a running landing, which, if you ask Tairn, would be never.

“You can’t change graduation requirements.” I unbuckle from the saddle and wince at the twinge in my hips that tells me I went too long between breaks.

“I’ve never tried,” Tairn lectures, and his head whips toward the edge of the clearing, tilting in excitement as he watches the tree line for movement.

I grin, knowing Sgaeyl must be close.

“Let’s agree that we will come up with a solution that meets graduation requirements without breaking every bone in your body,” he suggests quickly.

“Agreed.” I should remember to only argue with him when he’s got better things to do more often. Climbing to the back of the saddle, I unclip the packs and nearly lose my footing in my haste.

“We’re all dead if you fall off my back and break your impatient neck.”

“Because I’m the impatient one.” I swing my small pack onto my back, then place one of the heavier packs on each of my shoulders. “I can’t believe you allowed someone up here to secure the bags. I’m impressed with your restraint.”

“The section leader attached the bags to the saddle before I put it on, naturally.”

“And here I was thinking you’d evolved.” My knee throbs as I navigate Tairn’s back, but it’s all but forgotten the second I lower my shields and feel that shadowy bond wrap around my mind.

It goes against my instincts to block him, but I force my mental shields back into place. After the way we left things last weekend, I have no idea what to expect from him, but he’ll damn well expect me to have my shields up no matter how mad we are at each other. Bags secured, I slide down Tairn’s leg and take the brunt of the impact on my good knee when I hit the ground.

“Go find Sgaeyl,” I urge Tairn, heading across the field of trampled grass toward the looming fortress.

“I’ll wait until you’re inside as always.”

“You’re wasting time.” I can feel his anticipation singing through my bloodstream, but I don’t block it out. At least one of us is happy. The thing that happens later? That, I’ll block out like my life depends on it.

“Then walk faster.”

I laugh and trudge forward. Gods, these bags are heavy, and weirdly… vibrating with energy. Guess these ones have already been imbued with power.

An entire company of infantry jogs toward me from the arched entrance as I make it to the top of the stone ramp. Oh shit, I’m right in their way.

“Rider!” the commander yells.

Before I can step aside, the company splits down the middle and runs around me, so close I can feel the breeze from the air they displace like I’m a boulder in the middle of their rushing creek. I hold completely still to avoid impact, not even daring to breathe as they run by.

When the last of them pass, I exhale, then continue into the bailey. A group of healers crosses in front of my path, and when they clear, I see Xaden striding toward me across the courtyard, his face unreadable. My heart stutters, then pounds, but I make myself move forward.

Not sure how it’s possible, but I simultaneously want to climb the man and kick him hard in the shins.

There’s a group of riders in the courtyard behind Xaden, but they’re only a blur of black because I can’t look away from him, can’t see past him. As complicated as our connection is, it’s also undeniably simple. He’s the horizon, and nothing exists beyond for me.

“I’m going to have to force your hand and I’m sorry,” he says quickly as he approaches, cutting through my shields like they’re nothing but lace where he’s concerned.

“What else is new?” I pause, noting that everyone between us gets out of his way.

“You have about two seconds to decide if you want time to talk in private tonight.” He’s less than a dozen feet from me.

“Not sure you want to be alone with me, considering what I’m carrying.” I bristle. That’s the first thing he has to say to me after the way he cut out last week?


“Yes. Of course I want to talk to you in private.”

“Tell me to kiss you. Even if it’s just for show.” There are only heartbeats between us now, and he’s not slowing.


“Now, Violet. Or you’ll be sleeping in someone else’s room tonight.” The look in his eyes demands an instant answer. Right. Because he told me months ago he’d only kiss me when I asked him to. He reaches for me, one hand sliding to the back of my neck and the other bracing my waist as our bodies collide.

The impact sends every sense reeling.

“Kiss me.” Just for show.

“I missed you,” he says a second before his mouth crashes into mine.

“You walked out on me,” I accuse, nipping the soft skin of his bottom lip with my teeth.

“Fight later.” His hand slides along my face, and he presses his thumb just above my chin. “Now kiss me like you mean it.”

“Since you asked so nicely.” I part my lips under his and immediately regret every second I’ve spent not kissing him lately.

I whimper at the first stroke of his tongue along mine, and his hand flexes on my waist, gripping me tighter as he sinks into the kiss. Yes. One touch, that’s all it takes, and the world around us ceases to exist. This is everything. The energy thrumming in the air around us pales in comparison to the power that floods my veins, the need that ignites within me as we both work to control the kiss.

He wins, consuming me, devouring every thought in my head besides getting closer. The bags slide from my shoulders, hitting the ground beside me with a thud, and I wind my arms around his neck, arching against him. I kiss him back like my life depends on his surrender and tilt my head for that perfect angle. He finds it without even trying, taking the kiss deeper, stealing little pieces of my soul with each swirl and slide of his tongue with an expertise I can’t fight.

I can’t remember why I ever wanted to.

Why would I deny myself the explosive pleasure of kissing Xaden? This is when we make sense. When nothing else matters but the feel of his lips, the flick of his tongue behind my teeth, the lust burning through me I know only he can fully sate. My heart gallops and my body floats as my hands slide into his soft hair.

Weightless. He makes me feel totally, completely weightless, like it’s possible to fly on nothing but waves of sensation.

Gods, I fucking want him. Just like this. Just us.

“Violet.” It’s a mental groan as his mouth thoroughly lays claim to mine. “Oh for fuck’s sake.” A familiar voice intrudes on my own little piece of heaven, and that’s when I remember.

This is supposed to be for show, and here I am, completely losing myself in him. In the middle of the courtyard. In front of gods only know who. And

that weightless feeling? It’s because I’m anchored against his chest by one of his strong arms, my feet dangling off the ground.

“Good enough show for you?” I draw back slowly, dragging my teeth across his bottom lip before releasing him.

“Fuck the show.” His eyes flare with the same heat that has me ready to combust. At least I’m not the only one losing control. I know that look on his face. He’s just as turned on as I am.

He kisses me again, losing his polished finesse in favor of untamed demand, and I melt.

“Put my sister down, Riorson. You made your point.” That familiar voice— My head whips to the right, breaking the kiss. “Mira?”

She taps her fingers along her folded arms, but her stern expression— eerily close to our mother’s—doesn’t last more than a breath before her mouth curves into a smile. “Good to see you, Vi.”

“What are you doing here?” I grin as Xaden sets me down. Then I step over the discarded bag to hug my sister.

“As of yesterday, I’m stationed here.” She holds me tightly, just like she always does, then pushes me away by the shoulders to do her customary inspection for mortal wounds.

“I’m fine,” I promise her.

“Are you sure?” Her hands move to the sides of my head, and she rises up on her tiptoes to look down at me. “Because I’m thinking you must have taken a pretty serious blow to the head to be involved with this one.”

I blink. What the hell am I supposed to say to that?

“Play along, or you’ll be in her room tonight. Not mine,” Xaden tells me.

“She’s been more than adamant.”

“Right, well…” Shit, I really don’t want to lie to my sister any more than I have to.

“I’m going to take your bags to my room,” Xaden says, helping me out of the pack on my back, then picking up the two I dropped.

“Thank you,” I say mostly out of habit.

He leans in and brushes a kiss over my forehead. “I have duty today.”

“No,” I whisper, my stomach dropping in disappointment. That doesn’t exactly leave us time to talk—which is probably the point. “I guess we can’t fight if we don’t talk?”

“We’ll have time later,” he promises. “Have fun with your sister. I’ll see you tonight.” He brushes a flight-loosened strand of my hair behind my ear and grazes his knuckles gently down the side of my cheek.

“All right.” If it wasn’t all for show, I’d be a puddle. And the heat in his eyes when they meet mine for a second? I’m instantly warm despite the mountain air.

“Don’t let her set anything on fire,” he says over his shoulder to Mira as he walks away, heading for the corridor near the southwestern staircase.

I scoff, but that doesn’t stop me from watching him go.

“Keep your shields up.”

“It’s not like they help block you out.”

“Told you, I’m harder than most,” he replies. “Keep them up anyway.

It’s not me you have to worry about.”

“He’s…carrying your bags up to his room for you,” Mira says slowly, moving to my side and glancing between Xaden’s retreating back and me.

“He is.” I nod. Or is he? The ache in my chest turns bitter. Maybe he’s actually taking two of those bags to a drop point and leaving me with Mira to distract me. I hate that I can’t trust him, that he can’t trust me, that we’re at this impasse.

“Oh shit,” Mira mutters.

“What?” I sigh as he disappears into the building.

“You’re not just fucking him, are you? You’re falling for him.” She stares at me like I’ve lost my mind.

My gaze swings to hers, and though I know I should, I can’t lie to her.

Not about this. “Not exactly.”

“Who do you think you’re fooling? He basically swallowed you whole, and now you’re watching him with those big, soft eyes that are practically oozing with”—she gestures at my face, her nose crinkling like she smells something bad—“what even is that? Yearning? Infatuation?”

I roll my eyes.

“Love?” She says the word like it’s poisonous, and something on my face must give me away because the disgust on hers morphs into shock. “Oh, no. You’re in love with him, aren’t you?”

“You can’t possibly know that just by looking at me,” I counter, my spine stiffening.

“Ugh. Let’s go throw knives at shit.”

Brennan is alive. Brennan is alive. Brennan. Is. Alive. It’s all I can think as we empty our sheathes into the wooden targets that line the back of

the outpost’s small sparring gym on the north side of the first floor. It’s a far cry from the pit on the south side of the fortress I first found Xaden fighting in.

Keeping secrets from Rhiannon is loathsome, but not telling Mira that Brennan is alive might just make me the worst person on the Continent.

“I’m the last person to judge who you sleep with—” Mira starts.

“Then don’t.” I flip my next-to-last dagger, catch it by the tip, and throw it, hitting the neck of the target.

“Regulations aside, because yes, what you’re doing is fraternizing”—she throws her next dagger without even looking and hits the target mid-chest— “with an officer, I’m just saying that if it goes badly, you’re stuck with each other for the rest of your careers.”

“But you’re not judging.” I throw my last dagger, hitting her target in the neck.

“Fine, maybe I’m judging.” She shrugs, and we walk to the targets. “But you’re my only sibling. I’m allowed to worry.”

I’m not, though. She and Brennan were inseparable as kids. If one of us should know that he’s alive and healthy, it’s her. “You don’t have to worry about me.” I yank my daggers out of the wood one by one and sheathe them along my thighs and at my ribs.

“You’re a second-year. Of course I’m going to worry.” She retrieves her own knives and looks over her shoulder at a pair of riders sparring on the

mat behind us. “How is RSC going?” she asks, lowering her voice. “We lost a rider in the first exercise. Two maps?”

“Yeah, it’s a mindfuck.” She presses her lips into a thin line. “But that’s not what I meant.”

“You’re worried about the interrogation portion,” I guess, sheathing the eleventh dagger at my ribs.

“They’re going to beat you black and blue just to see if you can take it.” She plucks my dagger from the throat of her target. “And the way you break


“I can handle pain.” I turn toward her. “I live in pain. I practically built a house there and set up a whole economy. I can take whatever they dish out.”

“After War Games, RSC is when the most second-years die,” she admits quietly. “And they take one or two squads at a time for exercises, so you don’t really notice the increase in the death roll, but it’s there. If you don’t break, they can accidentally torture you to death, and if you do break, they’ll kill you for it.” Her gaze drops to my dagger, and she looks concerned.

“It’s going to be a shitty few days, but I’ll be all right. I made it this far.” Breaking bones is a Tuesday for me.

“Since when do you use Tyrrish daggers?” She holds mine up, examining the black hilt and the decorative rune at the pommel. “I haven’t seen runes like these in…a while.”

“Xaden gave them to me.” “Gave?” She hands it back.

“I won them from him during a sparring match last year.” I sheathe it at my ribs beside the others as she lifts a skeptical eyebrow and chuckles. “So yeah, he pretty much gave them to me.”

“Huh.” She tilts her head to the side and studies me, seeing more than I want her to, like always. “They look custom.”

“They are. They’re harder to knock out of my hands than the traditional length and not as heavy.”

She doesn’t look away as we walk back to the throwing line.

“What?” I feel my cheeks heat. “He has a vested interest in keeping me alive.

I know you don’t like him. I know you don’t trust him—”

“He’s a Riorson,” she says. “You shouldn’t trust him, either.” “I don’t.” I look away after the whispered confession.

“But you’re in love with him.” She heaves a frustrated sigh and throws a dagger. “That’s… I don’t even know what that is, but ‘unhealthy’ is the first word that comes to mind.”

“It’s us,” I murmur and change the subject. “Why did they station you here, anyway?” I choose a spot on the target in the upper abdomen, then hit it. “Samara is warded, and you’re a walking shield. Kind of a waste of your signet.” She’s a shield.

Why the hell didn’t I think of asking her about the wards sooner? Maybe the answer isn’t in a book. Maybe it’s in Mira. After all, her signet is the ability to extend the wards, to tug the protections with her even where they shouldn’t be able to stretch.

She glances back at the sparring pair. “I think they’re worried about attacks here because this outpost has one of the biggest power supplies for the wards. If this place falls, a giant portion of the border is vulnerable.”

“Because they’re set up like dominos?” I throw another dagger, wincing when I’m not as careful as I should be on my aching knee.

“Not exactly. What would you know about it?” She throws another without looking and hits the target true.

“Fucking show-off,” I mutter. “Is there anything you don’t excel at?”

“Poisons,” she answers, flicking another dagger at the target. “Never had the aptitude for them like you and Brennan. Or maybe it’s just that I could never sit still long enough to listen to Dad’s lessons. Now tell me what you know about the wards.” She shoots a sideways look at me. “Weaving isn’t taught until third-year, and anything beyond is classified.”

“I read.” I shrug and hope to Zihnal it looks nonchalant. “I know that they originate from the wardstone in the Vale because of the hatching grounds located there, and that they’re boosted with a power supply along

our border outposts to expand their natural distance in places and maintain a strong defense.” All common knowledge, or at least researchable.

She flings another knife. “They’re woven to the ground out here,” she says quietly as the pair behind us continues sparring. “Think of an umbrella. The wardstone is the stem, and the wards take the shape of a dome over Navarre.” She motions with her hands, forming the shape. “But just like an umbrella’s spokes are strongest at the stem, by the time the wards reach the ground, they’re too weak to do much without a boost.”

“Provided by the alloy,” I whisper. My heart starts to pound.

“And the dragons.” She nods, two lines appearing between her brows. “You know about alloy? Are they teaching that now? Or did Dad—”

“It’s the alloy stored in the outposts that tugs some of those umbrella spokes forward,” I continue, flipping my dagger in my hand by pure muscle memory. “Extending the wards twice as far as they’d normally reach in some cases, right?”


“And what’s it made of?”

“That’s definitely above your clearance.” She scoffs.

“Fine.” It stings a little that she won’t tell me. “But how do you weave new wards? Like if we wanted to protect places like Athebyne?” Flip. Flip. Flip. I keep moving the dagger and hope she sees it as casual.

“You don’t.” She shakes her head. “The extensions are what we weave. It’s like continuing a tapestry that’s been stretched too far. You’re just adding threads to something that already exists, and we can’t extend the wards to Athebyne. We’ve tried. But who told you—”

“Is that how your signet works?” I stop flipping. “Because you’re basically a ward, right?”

“Not exactly. I kind of pull the wards with me. Sometimes I can manifest on my own, but I have to be close to an outpost. Kind of like I’m just another thread. What has gotten into you?” She flicks another dagger, and it lands dead center.

“Do you know how the wardstone works?” I ask, lowering my voice to a whisper.

“No.” Her eyes flare. “Keep throwing before curious ears start listening.”

I dutifully throw another.

“That information is way beyond my rank—and yours.” Her next dagger lands right next to the first. “Why are you asking?”

“Just curious.”

“Don’t be. It’s classified for a reason.” Her wrist flicks another knife toward the target. “The only people who know are the ones who need to know, just like every other piece of classified intelligence.”

“Right.” I force a smile and throw my next dagger with a little more strength than necessary. Time to change the subject. Maybe she knows, or maybe she doesn’t, but she’s definitely not going to tell me. “Speaking of classified, were you on any of the missions to check the Poromish cities for damage?” I put my hands up when she gawks at me. “They told us about it in Battle Brief; it’s not secret anymore.”

“No,” she answers. “But I saw one of the riots who did the flying while Teine and I were out on patrol.”

My stomach twists. “Do you know anyone who was on the missions?”

“No.” Another knife, another hit. “But I read the reports. Did they give those to you?”

I shake my head. “And you trust the reports?” It doesn’t come out as casually as I’m trying for.

“Of course.” She searches my eyes for answers I can’t give. “Why wouldn’t I? Why wouldn’t you?” Her hands make a quick, outward motion, and the noise of the sparring pair disappears. It’s a sound shield, just like she used in Montserrat—a lesser magic, but still a tricky one I haven’t mastered. “Tell me what’s going on with you. Now.”

I was thrown into a battle with dark wielders, lost one of my closest friends, fought an actual venin on the back of my dragon, and then was mended by our very not-dead brother. “Nothing.”

She gives me the look. The one that always loosened my tongue when we were kids.

I waver. If there was only one person on the Continent I could tell, it would be Mira.

“I just think it’s weird that you wouldn’t know anyone on the missions into Poromiel. You know everyone. And how do you know that what you saw was one of the riots tasked with reconnaissance?” I ask.

“Because there were over a dozen dragons in the distance to the south, over the border. What the hell else could it have been, Violet?” She gives me a skeptical look.

This is it. This is the opening to tell her the truth. The chance to bring her in so she fights on the right side of this conflict, so she can see our brother. Wyvern. She saw wyvern. But it’s not just my life I’d risk by telling her. My heart sinks, but I have to.

Xaden could never understand—he doesn’t have a sister.

“I don’t know,” I whisper. “What if they’re wyvern?” There. I said it.

Kind of.

She blinks and draws her head back. “Say again?”

“What if you saw wyvern? What if they’re destroying Poromish cities, since we both know it isn’t dragons?” My hand clenches around the hilt of my last dagger. “What if there’s an entire war out there we know nothing about?”

Her shoulders dip and sympathy fills her eyes. “You have to spend less time reading those fables, Vi. Have you been getting enough rest since the gryphon attack? Because you sound like maybe you’re not sleeping.” The concern in her tone breaks me down like nothing else could. “And it’s hard to see combat for the first time, let alone as a first-year, but if you don’t get enough sleep and present a stable, steady front… Riders have to be solid, Violet. You understand what I’m saying?”

Of course she doesn’t believe me. I wouldn’t either. But she’s the only person in the world who absolutely, unconditionally loves me. Brennan let me believe he was dead—would still let me believe it. Mom has never seen me as anything but a liability. Xaden? I can’t even go there.

“No.” I shake my head slowly. “No, I’m not sleeping very well.” It’s an excuse, and I take it. Heaviness settles in my chest.

She sighs, and the relief in her eyes eases a little of the weight in mine. “That explains it. I can recommend some really great teas that will help. Come on, let’s get these daggers out and get you to bed. You’ve had a long flight, and I have duty in a few hours, anyway.” She leads me to the targets, and we remove the daggers once again.

“You’re on duty with Xaden?” I ask to fill the silence as we pull blade after blade from the wood.

“No. He’s in the operations center, which is—” “Above my clearance. I know.”

“I have a patrol flight.” She puts her arm around my shoulders. “Don’t worry.

We’ll get to spend some time together when you’re here next. Every two weeks, right?”


The sky is black when Xaden slides into bed shirtless, the movement waking me from a fitful attempt at sleep. Enough moonlight comes through the window to see the harsh, beautiful lines of his face as he turns toward me, both of us lying on our sides. Enough moonlight to see a silver scar across his heart I somehow missed in the fighting pits. Was he

wounded at Resson?

“You’re awake.” He leans onto his elbow, propping his head on his hand.

“I don’t sleep well anymore.” I tug the summer-weight blanket up over my shoulder as if he hasn’t seen me in less than the slip of a nightgown I’m wearing. “And I don’t have it in me to fight tonight.”

“Then we won’t fight.”

“Because it’s that simple.” Even my sarcasm is exhausted.

“It is if that’s what we decide.” His gaze wanders over my face, softening with every second.

“What time is it?”

“A little after midnight. I wanted to talk to you earlier, but there was an incident—”

“Mira.” I jolt upright, fear stabbing deep.

“She’s fine. Everything’s fine. Just some civilians trying to cross the border and the infantry…wasn’t pleased.”

“They weren’t pleased?”

“They killed them,” he admits softly. “Happens all the time out here, just doesn’t get briefed at Basgiath. Lie back down.” The suggestion is gentle. “Mira’s perfectly fine.”

We kill civilians? That information goes straight to the box.

“I almost told her today.” I whisper the confession as my head hits the pillow, even knowing no one can hear us in here. “For all my anger, you’re right not to trust me, because I almost told her. I even hinted, hoping she’d catch on.” A bitter laugh slips free. “I want her to know. I want her to see Brennan. I want her to be on our side. I just…” My throat threatens to close. Xaden reaches out and cups my cheek. There’s no reproach in his gaze,

or even judgment, though I’ve just given him reason to shut me out for the rest of our lives. His silence, the quiet acceptance in his eyes, keeps me talking.

“I just feel…heavy,” I admit. “I don’t have anyone who knows who I really am anymore. The guy I considered my best friend nearly got us killed. I’m keeping secrets from Rhiannon, from my sister, from…you. There’s not a single person in this world I’m entirely truthful with.”

“I haven’t exactly made it easy for you to trust me,” he says, stroking his thumb over my cheek. “I’m still not making it easy. But you and I are not easy people. What we build together has to be strong enough to withstand a storm. Or a war. Easy isn’t going to give that to us.”

What we build together. The words make my reckless heart clench.

“I should have told you I was reading into the wards.” I rest my hand on the warm skin of his arm. “I knew you’d tell me not to, and I’d probably do it anyway, but mostly I didn’t tell you because…” I can’t even say it.

“Because I don’t tell you everything, either.” His thumb strokes across my cheek again. “You put it between us on purpose. Gave yourself a secret

because I wouldn’t share all of mine.” I nod.

“You’re allowed to have secrets. That’s the point. I’d prefer they not risk everything I’ve worked toward for the last few years—or your life. And yes, I’m still not happy about the scribe, but we’re not fighting tonight. I just need to know the important things. I won’t withhold information that could change how you make decisions, and I ask the same of you.” His thumb continues the same soothing, lazy pattern.

I don’t want us to have secrets, but he’s already made it clear that’s not changing. So maybe it’s time to try another tactic. “How long will you hold on to the weapons for?”

A corner of his mouth tugs upward. “I won’t meet up with a drift for another couple of weeks.”

Holy shit, it worked. “You answered.”

“I did.” He smiles, and an ache wakes in my chest. “How did it go with Varrish?”

“Tairn nearly ripped out Solas’s throat, which worked for getting Andarna out of maneuvers but may end up causing me bigger problems in the future.” A small smile spreads across my face. Look at us: having a conversation without fighting.

“We’ll keep an eye on the situation. I’m slightly worried I’ll kill Varrish if he pushes you to burnout again.” There’s no teasing in his voice, and I know he’ll do it.

“What’s with the weaving book you left me after graduation?” I change the subject with a small, confused shake of my head. “And the strips of fabric? Do you think I’m suddenly going to start crafting?”

“Just thought you might like to keep your hands busy.” He shrugs with one shoulder, but the devious glint in his eyes says it’s something more than that.

“So I keep them off other cadets?”

“I just thought you might like to explore an aspect of Tyrrish culture. I can weave every knot in that book.” He flashes a smile. “It’ll be fun to see if you can keep up with me.”

“In fabric knots?” Has he fallen off Sgaeyl recently?

“Culture, Violence.” His hand slides to the base of my neck, and his gaze turns serious. “Do you have nightmares about Resson? Is that why you can’t sleep?”

I nod. “I dream of a million different ways we could have lost. Sometimes I dream it’s Imogen who dies, or Garrick…or you.” Those are the ones that make it impossible to sleep afterward, the ones where their Sage takes him from me.

“Come here.” He wraps his arm around my waist and tugs, rolling me toward him.

My back settles against his chest as he tucks me in close. Gods, he hasn’t held me like this since the night we destroyed my room. Warmth infuses every inch of my exposed skin, pushing the cold from my bones. The ache in my chest expands.

“Tell me something real.” It comes out as a plea, just like it did last year.

He sighs and curls around me. “I know who you really are, Violet. Even when you keep things from me, I know you,” he promises.

And I know enough about him to be a real liability with the interrogation portion of RSC coming up.

“I’m still not strong enough to shield you out.” Right now, with his arm draped across my waist, I’m not sure I want to.

“I’m not a good measure of your skill,” he says against the bare skin of my shoulder, and a shiver of awareness ripples through me. “The day you can successfully block me all the way out is the day I’m dead. We’re both dead. I can’t block you out entirely, either, which is how you found me in the sublevel even when my shields were up. You might not be able to barge through, but you’re aware I’m there. Just like you can muffle Tairn’s and Andarna’s emotions but you can’t lock them out forever.”

My breath hitches. “So I might be strong enough to block Dain?” “Yes, if you keep the shields intact at all times.”

“What’s alloy made of?” I ask, heady with the knowledge that I can keep Dain out.

“An amalgamation of Talladium, a few other ores, and dragon egg shells.”

I blink with surprise, both at his answer and the fact that he told me. “Dragon egg shells?” Well that’s…weird.

“They’re metal and still carry magic long after the dragons hatch.” His lips skim the back of my neck as he inhales, then sighs. “Now go to sleep before I forget all my honorable intentions.”

“I could remind you of some very fun, very dishonorable ones.” I lean back into him, and he throws his leg over mine, locking me down tight.

“You want to give me those three little words?” I stiffen.

“I thought not. Sleep, Violet.” His arm tightens around me. “You love me,” he whispers.

“Stop reminding me. I thought we agreed not to fight tonight.” I snuggle in deeper, his warmth lulling me into that sweet middle space between wakefulness and oblivion.

“Maybe you’re not the one I’m reminding.”

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