Chapter no 24

Iron Flame (The Empyrean Book 2)

Dain steps into view, and my heart hits the stone floor as he surveys my friends, then turns toward me. His eyes widen as he takes stock of my

bruised and swollen face. “Violet.”

“Dain is here.” I reach for Xaden even as fear freezes me in place. This can’t happen. I’m unsure how much Dain knows, but it’s definitely not as much as I do.

“I’m on my way.” The tense tone of Xaden’s voice is all it takes for me to know how deep the shit is about to get.

“You can’t do anything.” I reinforce my shields, putting all my mental energy into the task and drawing power from Tairn to bolster them, stacking the bricks two deep around my mental Archives.

“I don’t understand,” Sawyer says. “Why is our wingleader here?”

“He’s advocating for her like Riorson said a wingleader should,” Ridoc answers, hope in his voice. “Aren’t you?”

“He’s not,” I answer, keeping my eyes on Dain and his hands.

“Regulations state that riders should be healthy before beginning interrogation assessment,” Dain barks, ripping his gaze from mine to address Varrish. “Cadet Sorrengail is clearly not healthy.”

I blink in sheer surprise.

“Such a rule follower.” Varrish clucks his tongue. “Regulations say they

should, not that they have to be. It’s more realistic that a rider would be

wounded when captured.”

“What am I doing here?” Dain demands.

“Testing a theory.” Varrish smiles. “But while we’re waiting for our guest to arrive, you should practice on her.” He points to me.

Guest? My fear is replaced with anger. “Don’t come. Varrish wants to see if you will. I think he’s testing the bond-blocking mixture.”

“If he sees your memory, the entire movement is at risk.”

“And if you come in here, whipping shadows around, he’ll know I have something to hide, and this will become a real interrogation. Your only option is to trust that you trained me well enough.” A rescue sounds great in theory but would fuck all of us.

“Violet—” The plea in his voice nearly breaks me. I shove that last brick in place and block Xaden out. “You want me to…” Dain lifts his brows.

“Yes. Use your signet on her. Only to draw out the secret phrase, of course.”

“My signet is classified.

“And she already knows what it is,” Varrish says, shaking his head like this is all no big deal. “Doesn’t she? That’s why she’s so angry with you. She blames you for what happened to her friend.” He walks forward. “It’s amazing what you can learn by simply observing.”

Dain shakes his head. “I’m not doing this.”

“Then who are you going to practice on to extend your ability past recent events? We’re running out of civilians around here for Nolon to mend, and if you think she hasn’t told the rest of her squad your little secret, you’re giving her far too much credit.”

Holy shit. While Carr is my teacher, Varrish is Dain’s. What the hell is our vice commandant’s signet?

Dain stiffens, his eyes searching mine.

I don’t deny it. I can’t. I’m a shitty liar, and with the lie-finder—or whatever his signet is called—on the other side of the room, I’m better off keeping my mouth shut.

“This is what your signet is made for. You’re the first line of defense, Aetos. She could be a Poromish spy or a gryphon rider. You could save the entire kingdom by just plucking her secrets from her memory.” Varrish looks at me like I’m an animal made to be studied. “You can see what really happened that day when the two marked ones were killed by”—he cocks his head to the side—“gryphons, wasn’t it, Cadet Sorrengail? The truth is waiting, Wingleader Aetos, and you’re the only one who can see it.”

Breathe in. Breathe out. I concentrate on steadying my heart rate and holding Dain’s gaze.

“Holy shit,” Ridoc mutters. “He can what?”

I keep my focus on Dain. How can someone be so familiar and yet such a stranger? He’s the same boy I climbed trees with, the same one I ran to whenever anything went wrong. But he’s also the reason Soleil and Liam are dead.

“You could learn what it is she sees in him,” Varrish whispers, getting closer to Dain. “Why she chose him over you. Don’t you want to know? All the answers are right there. You just have to know where to reach.” Have to give it to him, he’s convincing as fuck.

The war within Dain’s eyes makes my throat tighten, and when he reaches for my face with both hands, I arch my neck, leaning as far back as the chair will let me.

“No.” I force the word out.

“No.” He repeats my refusal slowly, then drops his hands, his gaze falling from mine. “I will not participate in an interrogation assessment of a cadet with a prior injury,” he says over his shoulder at Varrish.

Then he walks out.

I drag a breath in, air wheezing past the tightness of my throat and into my lungs.

Rhiannon’s eyes meet mine, then slide shut slowly in relief.

“Well, that was disappointing and anticlimactic,” Varrish says with the first frown I’ve ever seen on his face. “Fucking rule follower. Back to typical tactics, I guess.” He draws back before I can brace and throws a hard punch to my dislocated shoulder.

Agony overwhelms every one of my senses. Then there’s only black.

Nolon hovers above me when I wake. I jolt up from the wooden bed, and he rears back.

“There she is,” he says, settling into the chair next to the bed.

“What time is it?” I glance around the room, quickly spotting Rhiannon, Sawyer, and Ridoc sitting on bunks. They don’t look any more injured than they did before I passed out.

Before Varrish punched my shoulder out of the socket. Gingerly, I rotate the joint, then look at Nolon. I’m mended. There’s an ache but nothing more, and I can see out of both eyes.

He nods.

“It’s morning,” Rhi answers, worry lining her forehead. “I think.” I reach for Xaden, but the pathway is opaque again. He’s gone.

“The vice commandant called me in to heal you.” Nolon’s voice drops, and he leans forward. “So he can shatter you again and again until you break. I’m on orders to remain in the antechamber for the rest of your interrogation, which he’s extended until tomorrow.”

Dread knots my empty stomach.

“Is that normal?” Sawyer asks, leaning toward me and bracing his forearms on his knees.

“No,” Nolon answers, holding my gaze. “He wants whatever it is you know, Violet.” He reaches for my hand and squeezes lightly. “Is it worth holding on to?”

I nod.

“Is it worth watching your squadmates tortured?” I wince but nod again.

“I think I’ve had my head buried in other matters for too long.” He sighs, then stands. “Why don’t you walk me to the door?”

I swing my legs over the bunk, then do as he asks, following him to the chamber’s door. Rhiannon isn’t far behind. “You’d better find a way out,” he whispers to me before speaking through the open window. “I’m done for now.”

The door opens, and Nolon escapes. “I’ll close it,” he tells whoever is on the other side. His eyes meet mine through the window as he shuts the door, the lock audibly clicking into place…but not the window.

Rhiannon tugs me down, and we both drop into a crouch.

“I’ve been thinking about my other patient,” Nolon says casually. “What about him?” Varrish replies.

“He spent the night in the infirmary again. Sorrengail will have to sleep off the mending for another hour or so. Why don’t you walk back with me and see if your particular skills could be of use? I might be overlooking something.”

Rhiannon and I exchange the same confused look. “You think the sessions are failing?” Varrish asks.

“I think I’ve done all I can for him,” Nolon answers. “I’m not going to sit here all day and waste time while she’s sleeping—”

“Fine, we’ll go,” Varrish replies. “We have to be quick. The others are fetching breakfast.”

“Then by all means, let’s make it fast.”

A moment later, the antechamber door opens and closes.

Rhiannon and I stand slowly, then peer through the window. “I think we’re alone,” she whispers.


“We have to get out of here,” Rhiannon says to the guys. “I really, honestly think Varrish might try to kill Violet.”

My stomach flips. Oh Dunne, she actually said it.

“Are you serious?” Sawyer asks, his eyes bulging, but Ridoc stays quiet, his gaze jumping between Rhiannon and me.

“He’s already pushed me to burnout once,” I admit quietly. A look passes between the guys, and they stand.

“Fine, I’ll ask the obvious question,” Ridoc says as they cross the chamber. “What the hell do you know that we don’t?”

I glance between all three of them. “If I told you—and trust me, I’ve considered it—you would be the ones strapped to the chair. I’m not about to let that happen.”

“Maybe you should let us decide what risks we’re willing to take.” Sawyer cracks his knuckles and rolls his shoulders, already looking at the door.

“Lesser magic isn’t working on the lock,” Ridoc mutters, his hand extended toward the door.

“Valid point, Sawyer. But this…” I shake my head. “It’s not just about me.”

“Right now it is,” Rhiannon says. “It’s all about saving you. We can figure the rest out later. Sawyer, do your thing.”

“Already on it.”

We move out of his way, and he puts his hands up toward each of the hinges. His fingers tremble and the hinges smoke, then melt. Hot metal drips down the edges of the door as he works.

“Quick, before you accidentally weld us in here,” Ridoc lectures.

“I don’t see you melting anything,” Sawyer responds from where he’s crouched, sweat beading his brow as he melts the last hinge.

Relief nearly takes out my knees. We’re going to make it!

The door wobbles, and Rhiannon and I lunge toward the guys, both throwing up our hands over them. Wood smacks into my palms, sending a jolt of pain through my newly mended shoulder as we catch what feels like the heaviest door ever made.

“Move!” Rhiannon shouts.

The guys scurry out from under the door, then help us lower it to the floor.

“We should consider quitting the quadrant,” Ridoc jokes as we walk over the door and out of the chamber. “We’d be kickass thieves.”

“With dragons,” Sawyer agrees.

“Unstoppable,” Ridoc says with a grin.

We pause at the desk only long enough to retrieve our weapons. I feel a little less panicked, less vulnerable with every blade I sheathe.

“Ready?” Rhiannon asks, gripping her shortsword.

Guess I’m not the only one who disdains feeling helpless.

We all nod, then head for the main door. Hope lives for all of a millisecond.

“It’s the same kind of lock. Lesser magic isn’t working,” Sawyer seethes, already putting his hands out.

“I don’t—” Heat prickles along my ribs. It’s the same feeling I get when I walk through the wards on my door. I look down and stare. The dagger closest to the door handle is hot and…tingling. I pull it from the sheath, bumping against the door handle as I brush my thumb over the decorative pommel.

Metal clicks against metal, and we all turn to look at the lock. “What the hell?” Sawyer’s eyebrows jump.

“I don’t know. That’s…impossible.” Knives don’t open locks. But the heat and the tingling sensation are gone.

“Someone stop staring and try the fucking door!” Rhi orders.

Reaching for the handle, I hold my breath as the latch depresses. I pull. The door opens. “Holy shit.” It’s coincidence. It has to be. Magic isn’t tied to objects like that.

“Holy shit later, escape now,” Rhi says. “Go!”

“Right.” I sheathe the blade and yank the door open.

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