Chapter no 22

Iron Flame (The Empyrean Book 2)

Faster. I have to run faster. Fear holds my throat shut as a tidal wave of death chases me across the sunburned field to where Tairn waits, his

back turned.

Wind roars around me, stealing every other sound, even my own heartbeat. Tairn’s going to die, and he doesn’t even see it coming for him.

Gold flickers near the tip of his wing.

Gods, no. Andarna. She’s here. She shouldn’t be here.

The wave nips at my heels, transforming the ground beneath my feet into an ashen, desiccated wasteland.

“There is nowhere to run, rider.” A hooded figure steps into my path out of nowhere, raising one arm.

I’m yanked off my feet by an unseen force and lifted into the air, completely immobilized. The wave of death halts and the wind falls silent, as if he’s stopped time.

He shifts his staff to the other hand, then pulls back the thick maroon hood of his floor-length robes with gnarled fingers, revealing the white of his scalp under his slicked-back, thinning hair. Shadows mark the gaunt hollows of his cheekbones on an eerily youthful face, and his lips are cracked and dry, just like the land behind me, but it’s his red-rimmed eyes, the distended veins spiderwebbing across his temples and cheeks, that have me fighting to open my mouth, straining to scream.


“So disappointing,” he lectures, as if he’s my Sage and not the teacher of the dark wielder I killed on Tairn’s back. “All of that power at your fingertips, and yet you insist on fleeing over and over, using the same failed tactics, and expecting what?” He tilts his head to the side. “To escape?”

My ribs tighten around my lungs as terror takes hold, and I force a garbled sound through my throat, but it does nothing to warn Tairn and Andarna.

“There is no escaping me, rider,” he whispers, his fingers ghosting over my cheek but not quite touching. “Fight me and die, or join me and live beyond the ages, but you will never escape me, not when I’ve waited centuries for someone with your power.”

“Fuck you.” It comes out as a whisper, but I mean it with every bone in my body.

“Death it is.” He looks so…disappointed as he lowers his hand.

Wind howls as I fall to the ground. A scream tears through my body as a wave of agony rolls over my skin and bones, leaching the very essence of my energy until—

I wake, my heart pounding, my skin clammy, my fingers wrapped around my black-hilted dagger.

Just a dream. Just a dream. Just a dream.

“Are you going to tell me where we’re going?” I ask Xaden on Saturday as he leads me down the stairs from my dorm room.

“To Basgiath’s forge,” he says as we emerge from the academic wing into the empty courtyard. It’s finally the time of year when the temperature outside matches inside. Autumn is settling in.

My chest tightens as I realize he’s taking me to see where they steal the weapons—and what that means. He’s letting me in.

“Thank you for trusting me.” The words don’t do the feeling justice.

“You’re welcome.” He looks down at me, his expression shifting. “Will I earn a little trust back now?”

I nod, tearing my gaze away from his before I do something reckless like let those three little words he wants spill out just because we’re having a moment. But I can share with him a secret of mine as well. “I found a text that said the First Six didn’t just establish the wards but personally carved the first wardstone.”

“We knew that.”

“Partially.” We cross down to the tunnels to the flight field, and I nod at one of our first-years. Channing? Chapman? Charan? Shit, it’s something like that. I’ll learn it in a couple of weeks—after Threshing. “The text said first wardstone,

which means if they carved the one here, there’s a good chance they carved the one in Aretia. I’m on the right track.”

“Good point.” He jerks open the door to the tunnels, and I walk inside.

“I know what I need to look for, but I’m not sure where it would even exist.”

“Which is?” He asks as we move toward the stairs.

My pulse is thrumming with excitement to finally see the forge, get a look at the luminary that the revolution needs so badly, too.

“I need a firsthand account from one of the six. My father talked about seeing one once, so I know they exist. Question is if they’ve been translated and redacted into uselessness.” We turn into the staircase and both stop abruptly.

Major Varrish blocks our path. “Ah, nice to see you, Lieutenant Riorson.” His smile is just as greasy as ever.

Fear squeezes my heart. Xaden is carrying enough contraband to see him executed two dozen times.

“Wish I could say the same,” Xaden retorts.

“Found her!” Varrish calls up the stairs. “Shouldn’t you be headed over to the main campus, Riorson? Surely that’s where officers lodge when visiting.” His gaze flicks my way.

It takes all my willpower not to retreat.

“There you are, Cadet Sorrengail.” Professor Grady offers me a genuine smile as he descends, his arm linked through Ridoc’s, whose hands are behind his back.

Ridoc shoots me a warning look, and dread settles heavily in my chest. No. Not today. We’re being taken.

“Turns out, you’re quite hard to catch by surprise,” Professor Grady says, a note of admiration in his voice. “Your door doesn’t allow anyone entrance.” He glances at Xaden, his focus shifting to the exposed swirls of his rebellion relic just under his jaw. “I’m guessing she has you to thank for that, since second-years can’t ward. Makes nabbing her for interrogation training a little difficult.”

“I’m not going to apologize.” Xaden’s eyebrows lower as Varrish’s riders— the ones who usually dump my belongings on the flight field— both turn the corner above Professor Grady. One escorts Rhiannon, and the other, Sawyer. Both of them have their hands bound behind their backs.

Looks like our squad is next for interrogation…and I almost just saw the mother of all secrets around here. I force myself to breathe, fighting to keep the nausea at bay.

“She’s on leave.” Xaden sweeps me to the side, putting me behind his back. “And recovering from an injury.” Shadows race from the edges of the stairwell, rising to form a waist-high wall. “He’ll use this opportunity to kill you for the embarrassment Tairn put him and Solas through.”

“You can’t possibly know that.”

“His intentions are pretty fucking clear. Trust me.”

“No, you’re on leave,” Varrish says, delight sparkling in his eyes. “Cadet Sorrengail is headed out for training.” He jabs his finger at the wall of shadow and winces. “Well, that’s fascinating. No wonder you’re so coveted. The pair of you really are quite something.”

“You can’t protect me from this any more than you could Threshing,” I tell Xaden, stepping out from the shelter of his body. “You know it’s true.”

“You weren’t mine at Threshing,” he counters.

“I’m not yours now,” I remind him. “I’ll be fine,” I say out loud. “Drop the barrier.”

“Do listen to your little girlfriend,” Varrish suggests. “I’d hate to report that you disobeyed a direct order, or worse—cancel her leave for next weekend. There’s really nothing you can do here.”

Oh, fuck. That is not the way to deal with Xaden. Ordering him around only makes him push that much harder. And separating Tairn and Sgaeyl for two weeks is more than they can take.

“I’m not in your chain of command, therefore I’m under no obligation to follow your fucking orders, and there is always something I can do. She’s in no condition to be tortured, and if her fucking wingleader isn’t here to advocate for her, then I will.”

“Sgaeyl!” I reach out through the one pathway I avoid at almost every cost. “They’re going to cancel next week’s leave if he doesn’t relent.”

“How hurt are you?” Grady asks, concern on his face. “Dislocated my shoulder last week,” I answer.

“I chose him for his inability to relent,” Sgaeyl reminds me.

“Not helpful at the moment. Do I need to remind you of what he’s carrying?”

“Fine. But only so this conversation ends.”

“Her wingleader is otherwise engaged,” Varrish says to Xaden. “And feel free to continue to argue with me. You’re right. You’re not under my chain of command, but as I had to remind her dragon, she is. Or did you not hear about her disciplinary session? I’d hate for her to have to repeat it simply for you to learn your lesson, Lieutenant. Then again, you could always join us.”

Xaden smiles, but it’s not the kind that warms my heart. It’s the one that chills every cell in my body to ice, the cruel, menacing curve I first saw on the dais when he was my wingleader. “One day, Major Varrish, you and I are going to have words.” He drops the shadow barrier and lifts a brow at me. “You went to Sgaeyl?”

“I make no apologies for saving your ass from your own stubbornness.” I put out my good hand, and Grady steps forward, binding it mercifully to the one protruding from the sling. At least he didn’t wrench my hurt

shoulder behind my back, but damn, the rope is tight. “There’s a book on my desk that needs to be returned to the Archives.”

Anger burns in the depths of his gold-flecked onyx eyes. “I’ll see that it’s done.”

“See you next week,” I whisper. “Tell her page three hundred and four mentions a text I’d like to read next.”

“Next week,” he responds with a nod, his fists clenched as Varrish walks by with the others in my squad. “Violence, remember it’s only the body that’s fragile. You are unbreakable.”

“Unbreakable,” I repeat to myself as Professor Grady leads me away.

You'll Also Like