Chapter no 38

Iron Flame (The Empyrean Book 2)

The valley above Aretia looks eerily similar to the last time I was here, as though fall at this elevation is meaningless, when there are clear signs of

winter approaching in the town beneath us. But unlike last time, there are dragons everywhere—the jagged outcroppings of rock above us, the mouths of the caves to the west, the wide valley to the east… everywhere.

And two of the biggest stand before me like bookends with Andarna between them.

“I thought you said she was awake?” I whisper at Tairn as if my voice might wake her, like there isn’t a giant brown stomping his way past the copse of trees where Andarna is napping, her body curved into an S-shape. Grass moves in front of her snout with every gust of her exhale, and she looks quite content with her scorpion tail curled around her. And kind of… green?

No, her scales are still black. It must be an adolescent thing that they’re so shiny she reflects some of the color around her.

“An hour ago.” Tairn chuffs and I’m pretty sure Sgaeyl just rolled her eyes.

“It took me an hour to get out of that meeting, and then I had to hike that cliff of a trail.” I shouldn’t wake her. The responsible action would be none, to let her sleep off the remnants of her nearly three-month-long dragon coma. But I’ve missed her so damn—

Gold eyes flash open.

Relief nearly brings me to my knees. She’s awake. I grin and feel my world right itself. “Hi.”

“Violet.” Andarna lifts her head, and a puff of steam blows back the loosened strands of my long braid. “I meant to stay awake.”

“That’s all right. Tairn says you’ll be nodding off for the next week or so.” Stepping forward, I reach up to scratch her scaly jawline. “You were out a long time.”

“It felt like nothing.” She arches her neck so I can get the area beneath her chin.

“Trust me, it wasn’t.” I step back and really look at her. If I had to guess, I’d say she’s almost two-thirds the size of Sgaeyl. “I think you’re bigger.”

“Naturally.” She huffs, digging her claws into the ground as she stands upright.

I retreat another couple of steps, looking higher and higher as she shakes off the sleep, her wings rustling as she swivels her head, taking in the valley. “What do you want to do? Fly? Take a walk?” There’s so much I need to tell her.

“Food. We should seek sheep.” She flares her wings out and then stumbles forward just like she did in the height of summer.


I scramble backward through the cumbersome grass, rushing to keep from being sliced by Andarna’s claws as she finds her balance.

“Could you not crush our human?” Tairn barks.

“I wasn’t even close,” Andarna snaps in return with a quick glare his direction as she flares her wings with the same result.

“I told you to be patient,” Tairn chides.

The look she levels on him makes Sgaeyl huff in what I think is appreciation, and Andarna rolls her shoulders, digs her claws in, and tries again to raise her wings.

My stomach drops, my mind spinning so quickly I can barely catch a whirring thought as my gaze flicks between the two wings. Her left one

doesn’t fully extend. It makes it halfway, but the remainder of the black webbing never pulls taut.

She attempts once, twice, then bares her sharp teeth and hisses steam when it doesn’t snap into place on the third attempt.

Oh gods. Something’s wrong.

I have no fucking clue what to say or do. I’m… speechless. Powerless to help. Fuck. Am I supposed to ask her if she’s all right? Or do I ignore it as I would a battle wound on an adult? Is the wing broken? In need of mending? Or is it part of the growth process?

Andarna’s head whips back toward mine and her eyes narrow. “I am not broken.”

My heart sinks.

“I never said you were,” I whisper. Shit, shit, shit. I hurt her feelings.

“Speech isn’t necessary when I can hear your thoughts. I am no more broken than you are.” Her lip curls and her teeth flash.

Ouch. “I’m sorry. That wasn’t what I meant to imply.” The thought is barely a whisper.

“Enough.” Tairn lowers his head to her level. “She is allowed to be concerned for you, as you are for her. Now go eat before hunger overpowers common sense.”

Sgaeyl stalks past me on the right, the ground lightly shuddering beneath my feet as she heads for the meadow to the east. Feirge gets out of her way.

“There is a herd that is far better hunted on foot,” Tairn says, a soft growl vibrating in his throat. “Follow Sgaeyl.”

Andarna tucks her wings, flexes her claws, then walks around me wordlessly, heading for Sgaeyl. I turn to watch them walk away.

“Adolescents,” Tairn grumbles. “They’re insufferable when hungry.”

“Her wing,” I whisper, wrapping my arms around my stomach.

His sigh ripples the grass around me. “The elders and I will work with her to strengthen the muscles, but there are complications.”

“Like?” My chest tightens, and I glance up at him.

“Put your shields up and block her out as much as possible.”

I focus, shielding out that pearlescent bond I now recognize as Andarna.


“There are many reasons younglings do not leave the Vale. The mass expenditure of energy in Resson forced her into a rapid rate of growth. You know that. But if it had happened here, or at Basgiath where she could have been quickly, safely sheltered for the Dreamless Sleep, perhaps she would have grown as usual.” His tone is enough to raise the hairs on the back of my neck. He’s never this careful with his words, never this careful with my feelings. “But we flew that critical day between Resson and Aretia,” he continues. “And then we waited again to fly to Basgiath, and even then she woke several times. The elders have never seen a dragon remain Dreamless that long. And now her growth is unpredictable. There is a second set of muscles along the fronts of our wings that forms during our growth. Hers did not. The elders believe she’ll still fly… in time. Once she’s strengthened the existing muscle to compensate.”

“Can Brennan mend her?” It’s my fault because I used her power in Resson. Because we’d flown that day. Because we’d had to return to Basgiath. Because she bonded when she was a juvenile and I interrupted her Dreamless Sleep. I could list reasons all day.

“You cannot mend what does not exist.”

I watch her quicken her pace to catch up to Sgaeyl, snapping her teeth at a bird that immediately regrets flying too close with a squawk.

“But she’ll fly?” I’ve learned enough about dragons to know that a life without flight is more than a tragedy.

“We believe she can eventually train the existing muscle to bear the weight of her wing,” he assures me, but there’s a note of something else in his tone that has me bracing.

“You believe.” I turn slowly to glare up at the second-biggest dragon on the Continent. “Which means you’ve had time to discuss. How long have you known?”

“Since she woke here in the high summer.”

My heart stops sinking and flat-out plummets to the grass. She hadn’t fully extended her wing then, either, but I’d thought nothing of it, since she

seemed generally… clumsy.

“What else aren’t you telling me?” There’s no way he’d have cut her out of the conversation unless he was worried about my reaction to the information— or hers.

“What she herself has not recognized.” He lowers his head, his great golden eyes locking with mine. “She’ll fly, but she’ll never bear a rider.”

She’ll never bear a rider. Tairn’s words repeat through my head for the next three days while we’re tossed back into classes, headed by the professors who flew with us to Aretia, as well as a few members of the revolution and the Assembly. Even translating Warrick’s journal can’t keep the thoughts out, and every time his prediction runs through my mind, I

immediately think of something else just in case Andarna is listening in.

“Iron… rain,” I say, writing the words on parchment as I finish translating the passage for the third time. I’ve come up with the same process every time, no matter how… odd it is.

“Iron rain mean anything to you?” I ask down the bond, closing the notebook on Xaden’s desk and reaching for my pack. I’m going to be late if I don’t hurry.

“Should it?” Tairn replies.

“Clearly, or she wouldn’t be asking.” I can practically feel Andarna’s eyeroll. “Ooh… sheep.”

“They will not stay down if you keep stuffing them in like”—Tairn sighs

— “that.”

I bite back a smile and race to meet my squad.

Have to give it to Brennan and the Assembly. We might be sharing books and cramming ourselves into every open room on the first floor for lectures, but every cadet is clean, fed, housed, and learning.

History is held in what I think was Xaden’s father’s office, and we started a new unit on the Tyrrish Rebellion yesterday so everyone can know

what really happened six years ago, but we’ve only gotten far enough to cover the political landscape of the years before the rebellion.

Instead of challenges and hand-to-hand, Emetterio has us running the steep, rocky trail to the valley every day until our aching lungs adjust to the altitude, but he’s warned us not to get too comfortable slacking off. Pretty sure the number of cadets vomiting beside the trail would indicate we’re not, but the urgency in his tone pushes us to run harder.

“Hawk Nose” Ulices has taken over physics, which only gives him another reason to spend an hour every other day glaring at me. And “Battle-Ax” Kylynn is set to take on flight maneuvers once the Assembly agrees we’re safe enough to let the riot rise from the hidden protection of the valley, which means we have more than two hundred restless dragons.

Suri, the member of the Assembly with the silver-streaked hair who blatantly hates me, flew off with Xaden and the other lieutenants two days ago. Not knowing where he is, wondering if he’s in danger, worrying every single second that he might be in battle, has me breathing through another wave of nausea as we file into the rebuilt theater in the northwest wing of Riorson House.

The sight is more than impressive. Not just that there’s enough seating for every cadet, but that of all the things they could have rebuilt in the last six years… they chose a theater.

“Welcome to Battle Brief,” Rhiannon says, leading us halfway down the steps on the right and into our seats.

“Good. Maybe they’ll tell us what’s happening in Navarre,” Visia says from the row ahead of us. Besides Aaric and Sloane, there are four other first-years, whose names I have yet to learn.

Unlike our usual Battle Brief, we’re seated as if in formation: by wing, section, and squad. And unlike the map at Basgiath, this one is the height and width of the large stage where the curtain would hang, and it includes the isles— the five large and thirteen smaller islands that surround the Continent in every direction.

“Those red and orange flags,” Ridoc notes from my left, pointing up at the map. “Are those… ”

“Enemy territory, I’m guessing,” Sawyer remarks, sitting next to Ridoc. “Not like Poromish enemy.” Ridoc takes his pen and parchment out of

his pack, and I do the same, balancing the bound notebook on my lap. “Like… dark wielder enemy.”

“Right. Drained land, destroyed cities like Zolya. Red is old movement and orange is new.” Nearly all of the Krovlan province remains untouched, but the enemy is just a day’s flight from our border. The only movement I notice since viewing this map in midsummer is up the Stonewater River— toward Navarre. “Did you guys get letters to your families?”

My friends couldn’t give out our location, but they could warn their loved ones to leave the border region, or just leave. I wouldn’t put it past Melgren to start executing the families to punish those who deserted.

And it’s all my fault. I’m responsible for Andarna’s wing, for forcing the exposure of the truth before Aretia was ready to act, for bringing a hundred riders here without permission, for the worry etched in Brennan’s forehead about boosting the sheep population for all the dragons I led here, and for putting a target on my friends’ families’ backs. I grip my pen so tight it groans under the strain.

How could I make every right decision last year and every wrong one this year?

They all nod, with Rhiannon adding, “I’m hoping it convinces them to move.”

Aaric doesn’t bother turning from his seat directly in front of me. “I declined the offer to correspond,” he says over his shoulder instead.

“I bet you did.” I force a small smile. His father would shit himself if he knew Aaric had not only joined the quadrant but turned against Navarre.

“Any luck on the wardstone?” Rhi asks, and every head turns. Even Aaric and Sloane look over their shoulders.

“I’ve translated the section we need three times, and I think I’m close.” My smile echoes theirs because I think I might actually have it. “I know it’s been three days, but I’m a little rusty, and it’s the oddest form of magic I’ve ever read about, which is probably why it’s never been done twice.”

“But you think it will work?” Sloane asks with blatant hope in her eyes.

“I do.” I nod, straightening my shoulders like the weight of their expectations is physical. “I just need to be sure it’s right.” And I’d better be right. Those wards are our best defense if wyvern crest the Cliffs of Dralor.

“Let’s get started!” Professor Devera says from the stage, her voice carrying over the hundred of us easily, and everyone turns to face her.

“It’s just like being at Basgiath,” Ridoc says with a smile. “But you know… not.”

Rhi leans in and whispers, “Odd magic?”

“I… ” My face scrunches. “I think the First Six practiced some kind of blood magic,” I whisper even quieter than she had. I’ve translated the passage three times and come up with the same words every time, but I’ve never heard of using blood in… anything.

Her eyebrows rise. “You sure?”

“As I can be. Jesinia came up with the same translation for the passage, but I think I should probably go over it one more time. Just in case.”

“Yeah. Just in case.” She nods.

“Welcome to your first official Battle Brief as traitors,” Devera announces.

That gets everyone’s attention. A pit forms where my stomach used to


“Get used to the sound of the word,” she says unapologetically, her gaze

scanning over us. “Because that’s what Navarre now considers us. Whether or not that’s how we feel about the choice we made to defend those who cannot defend themselves, that is how we will be seen by the friends and loved ones we left behind. But personally, I’m proud of every single one of you.” Her eyes find mine. “It’s hard to leave behind everything you know, everything you love, because your honor demands it. With that said, please welcome Lieutenant Colonel Aisereigh, who will take the place of the Scribe Quadrant Curator, since we don’t have them here.”

Markham’s position. Will Jesinia or the two other cadets start their own quadrant here without anyone to teach them? The Assembly finished debriefing and clearing Dain for attendance this morning, so he’s sitting in

the front row with the section leaders. I’m glad he’s out of isolation but also glad he’s keeping his distance.

“We believe in sharing information here in Aretia,” Brennan says as he takes the stage with Devera.

“Still can’t believe he ditched your last name,” Sawyer says under his breath.

My year-mates are the only ones who know who Brennan is, and it seems Devera and Emetterio are going along with the name change as well. Maybe Kaori would have, too, if he’d come with us, but he’d looked at me, clearly torn, and said his place was with the Empyrean.

Everyone who stayed had their reasons. At least that’s what I’m telling myself.

“He had to. Besides, I like his name. It’s Tyrrish for resurrected,” I reply.

He’s still just Brennan to me.

“First,” Brennan begins, “we’ve done as you’ve asked and kept you in your respective wings. Second Wing and Third Wing, you know that Eleni Jareth and Tibbot Vasant are now your respective wingleaders. We expect any missing section leaders or squad leaders to be replaced by tomorrow, and you’ll notify Devera of your choices.”

My eyebrows shoot up.

“You won’t choose for us?” someone from First Wing asks. That’s the protocol at Basgiath.

“Are you saying you’re not capable?” Brennan challenges. “No, sir.”

“Excellent. Moving on.” He turns our direction. “We double-checked the rolls to be sure, but it appears that not only does Fourth Wing currently boast this year’s Iron Squad—”

The first-years seated in front of us holler, since that honor of boasting the largest number of surviving first-years after Threshing is ours for the second year in a row. Baylor, the stocky one with the skull-trimmed black hair, shouts the loudest, and the corner of my mouth rises when he shoulder bumps Aaric into joining in.

“—but Flame Section has the unique honor of being completely intact.” Brennan looks down at Bodhi. “Durran, you brought every single cadet. I guess that would make you the Iron Section.”

Holy shit. I don’t even bother trying to suppress my grin, now. I knew that Fourth Wing brought the most cadets, but we kept our entire section together?

“I’m assuming you’d like a patch?” Brennan asks, a smile tilting his lips. “Fuck yes, we do!” Ridoc shouts, coming out of his seat, and our entire

section cheers loudly, even me.

“Yes, sir,” Bodhi says once we calm, glancing over his shoulder at us like he can’t take us anywhere nice.

“I’ll see what we can do.” Brennan glances up at me and grins. “Now to real business. We’ll start with your update from Navarre. As far as we can tell from our sources, the public doesn’t know.”

What? How? Rhi and I exchange a look of pure confusion as a ripple of hushed comments rolls through the theater.

“To our surprise, the outposts have successfully dispatched with the wyvern Lieutenant Riorson gifted to them, and General Melgren has kept the news from reaching the general public, though obviously all present military now knows. And unfortunately, they are still turning away every Poromish citizen at the border.”

My heart plummets, and the tiny part of me that had hoped our leaving would prompt action and reflection dies a painful, disillusioning death. But once we have wards, we’ll be a safe option for the Poromish citizens Navarre still won’t take.

“Our forces have doubled their patrols at the borders of Tyrrendor”—he rubs his thumb along the bottom of his jaw—“but we feel confident that our location is still secret.”

“Even with flying the Continent’s largest riot across Navarre?” someone from First Wing asks.

“Tyrs are loyal,” Sloane says, her chin rising. “We lived through the last rebellion. Whatever we see, we’ll keep to ourselves.”

Brennan nods. “The good news is: as far as our extensive sources can tell, your families have not been targeted, and we are reaching out with not only your letters but offers of sanctuary. If they’re willing to risk stepping into the unknown, we’ll work to get them here.”

The lump in my throat makes it hard to breathe for a second. Dad would be proud of him.

“What does this lack of troop movement tell us?” Devera asks, shooting Brennan a little side-eye. “Or do you not remember how Battle Brief works?”

“My apologies.” Brennan puts his hands up and stands back. “Been a few years.”

“They’ve been too busy cleaning up the mess Riorson dumped at the border to bother with us,” Dain answers.

“For now,” Brennan agrees with a nod. “They might be in shock, but don’t doubt that we’ll be fighting a war on two fronts as soon as they can get their bearings and decide how much they can risk the public knowing.”

“When do we get to fight them?” a guy from Third Wing asks, pointing up at the map. “The dark wielders?”

“When you graduate,” Brennan answers, lifting his brows in a no-nonsense expression that makes him look just like Dad. “We don’t send cadets to die, and that’s exactly what will happen to you if you try to take on a dark wielder before you’re ready. You will die. Are you really so anxious to start a new death roll?”

“Sorrengail and the others didn’t die,” he responds.

“Two of us did die,” Imogen snaps, and the rider slides down in his seat. “When you wield lightning, come and talk to me,” Devera counters.

“Before you graduate, you’re going to learn how to take on a dark wielder and survive,” Brennan promises. “It requires a different style of fighting, and honing your signets, which you may have noticed are a bit testy up here. Remember, magic is a little wild out here beyond the wards, but we’re currently deciphering Warrick’s journal in order to get our wards operational as quickly as possible. We’re also working on getting our forge

up and running to supply both our forces and the gryphon fliers with weaponry, which is part of our mission—”

A grumble of disapproval ripples through the auditorium.

“Knock it off,” Brennan chastises. “Fliers are dangerous, but they are not the enemy you’ve been raised to fear, though some are still hostile toward us, as evidenced by the attack on Samara four days ago.”

Fliers attacked Samara? My pulse stutters. Mira.

“Which brings us back to Battle Brief,” Devera continues. “One dragon was injured, but no riders were lost in the attack, according to our sources, mostly because there was only one dragon present at the outpost during the attack— political turmoil, remember? The wards did not fail, but a drift of fliers infiltrated the post, killing a dozen infantry before two of them were killed in the lowest level of the fortress.”

No riders were lost. She’s all right. Once my heart falls out of my throat, I can think again.

“They were looking for weaponry,” I whisper. “That’s where the armory is.” Navarre’s citizens might not know that we’re gone, but the drifts do.

“Say it,” Rhiannon urges quietly.

I shake my head, unwilling to follow my thoughts to their logical conclusion.

“What questions would you ask about the attack?” Devera cuts in. “This one’s been briefing officers for too long and doesn’t remember the art of teaching.” She cuts another mean side-eye at Brennan.

“Fuck it. I’ll say it,” Ridoc mutters. Then asks at full volume: “Were they looking for weaponry?”

“Absolutely.” Brennan nods. “That’s the only reason for fliers to attack Navarrian outposts directly.” He glances at me like he knows the question was really mine, and then stares in that challenging look of disapproval he mastered before the age of fifteen, daring me to rise, to stop avoiding the consequences of my own actions.

Fine. “Did the fliers attack Samara before or after the news of our… ” Gods, what are the right words for what we did? “Departure from Basgiath leaked into Poromiel?”

Brennan’s stare softens in approval. “After,” Devera answers.

The lump in my throat swells painfully, threatening to rip apart what facade of calm I have left. They attacked because they know we can’t supply them. They’re defenseless.

“It’s not your fault,” Rhiannon whispers. “Yeah, it is.” I focus on taking notes.

Brennan turns to the map. “On to enemy movements. In the last week, venin have taken the town of Anca. Not surprising, given its proximity to the recently fallen Zolya.”

I don’t bother looking at Anca. My gaze is locked on Cordyn, where Viscount Tecarus has the only other known luminary. It’s the next largest city between Zolya and Draithus, and still outside venin-controlled territory. The seaside city was a two-day flight from Basgiath, but from here? I bet Tairn could make it in twelve hours.

“Ten,” he corrects me. “But it’s not entirely safe,” he states, but it’s not an argument.

“So Xaden says, but neither is being here beyond the wards without a forge to arm anyone, including ourselves.” Good thing we’ll have the wards up soon.

“She makes a good point,” Andarna agrees. “Can you carry a luminary?”

“That question insults me.”

“Can you carry a luminary while insulted?” she prods. Tairn growls.

“What’s concerning is that it appears the town was drained, and then the dark wielders pulled back to reassemble in Zolya,” Devera says. “What does that tell us?”

“They’re organized and basing out of Zolya,” Rhiannon answers. “It’s like a supply trip for an ongoing campaign.”

“Silver One!” Tairn’s tone changes. “A riot approaches!”

My breath seizes as my head swings toward the back of the theater, as if the small windows there will give me any clue of what’s coming.

“Yes. They’re not just consuming but occupying territory for the first time. Good—” Brennan quiets, no doubt talking to Marbh, then focuses as the entire theater falls silent. “Everyone get to the great hall and wait there,” he orders, turning to Devera as the auditorium descends into quiet chaos.

“How many?” I force myself to breathe through the terror and shove everything into my pack and stand as everyone around me does the same in a hushed panic.

“Are they coming for us?” Ridoc asks quietly. “Navarre?”

I thought we’d have more time. How can this already be happening? “I don’t know,” Rhiannon answers.

“Can Tairn take Codagh?” Aaric asks as I throw my pack onto my back.

My mouth opens and shuts as I think of General Melgren’s dragon. I don’t even want the answer to that question.

And Tairn is suspiciously quiet.

“Shortest revolution in history.” Sawyer mutters a swear word and yanks the drawstrings of his pack tight.

“Forty. Sgaeyl is approaching as well, but she’s too far out to—” Tairn pauses. “Wait. Teine leads the riot.”


Mira. Fear knots my stomach. Fuck waiting.

I push past Sawyer to the outer aisle of the theater and then run, ignoring every voice that calls after me, even Brennan’s. Running every morning for the past three months has bolstered what advantage I already had on most of the riders in this room—speed.

“Ready the crossbolts!” Brennan shouts above the fray.

Mira will get herself killed. Or maybe she’s come here to kill us. Either way, she’ll have to look me in the eye before she does it.

Legs pumping, I race across the back of the theater, cutting First Wing off from the exit and sprinting through to the main hallway. Statues and tapestries blur as I run by, my lungs burning as I dart past the guards and riders flowing into the thoroughfare.

Please, Dunne, do not let her incinerate this house before I get the chance to talk some sense into her.

I sprint past Emetterio as he shouts for me to get into the great hall, then nearly slip turning into the foyer, not daring to break my stride even when my heart pounds hard, protesting the altitude. The guards hold the doors open, no doubt so riders can mount, and I fly straight through, my feet barely skimming the marble steps into the courtyard just in time to see Teine’s wings flare directly in front of me to halt a rapid descent.

That knot of fear lurches into my throat, and I skid to a stop about thirty feet outside the front door, my feet making furrows in the gravel.

Rock flies in a dusty barrage from the impact of the Green Clubtail’s claws, and I throw up my arms to cover my face as Teine lands directly in front of the courtyard doors, blocking the exit into the town, and two others flank him, their landings just as abrupt.

I cough as the dust clears and immediately spot an angry-looking orange and glaring red facing me, their teeth bared.

Fuck me, four more land on the outer walls, shaking the masonry.

They’re everywhere.

My stomach sinks. We’ve been betrayed. Someone’s told Navarre our location.


“Here,” he answers a moment before dropping out of the sky like a damned meteor. The ground shudders with the force of his landing to my left, and the shade of his wing blocks out the sun overhead. He roars so loudly my teeth rattle, then lowers his head, his neck only inches from my shoulder, and streams a river of fire in a clear warning shot across the legs of the dragons.

Heat blasts my face for the length of a heartbeat before he draws back, his head darting in a serpentine motion.

Teine steps forward, and time feels like it slows to milliseconds as Tairn lunges, opening his massive jaw and latching onto Teine’s throat just like he had Solas’s.

“Tairn!” I scream in raw fear. If Teine dies, so does Mira.

“For fuck’s sake, Violet!” Mira shouts.

“I have his throat, but I have not broken his scales,” he assures me like I’m the dramatic one here.

“Well, as long as it’s just a threat,” I reply sarcastically. “Dismount peacefully and Teine lives!” Others rush into the courtyard behind me, their feet loud on the gravel, but I keep my eyes locked on Teine and Mira.

She dismounts with enviable ease and strides toward me. Her cheeks are red with windburn, and her eyes are wild as she lifts her flight goggles to the top of her head. “We all come peacefully. It was Riorson who came for us. How else would we have found you?” She glances up at the house without breaking pace. “Gods, I thought this place was ash.”


“It’s not.” My fingertips brush the hilts of my daggers. I’m not sure I can lift them to kill my sister, but I sure as hell won’t be killed by her.

“Sgaeyl confirms,” Tairn says, releasing Teine’s throat and drawing back to my side. “They’re in range.”

Oh, thank the gods. My breath rushes out in a sigh of relief a second before Mira wraps her arms around me. “I’m sorry,” she says into my hair, squeezing me tight. “I’m so sorry I didn’t listen to what you were trying to tell me at Samara.”

My shoulders dip, and I relax into her, slowly returning the hug. “I needed you,” I whisper, unable to keep the hurt from leaching into my voice. There are so many other things that need to be said, and yet that’s what comes out. “I needed you, Mira.”

“I know.” Her chin bumps the top of my head before she pulls back, clasping my shoulders. For the first time since I started at Basgiath, she doesn’t scan my frame to see if I’m injured. She looks me straight in my eyes. “I’m so sorry. I let you down, and I promise it won’t happen again.” A ghost of a smile pulls at her lips. “You really stole half of Basgiath’s cadets? And killed the vice commandant?”

“Dain killed the vice commandant. I just finished him off. Well, Xaden helped. It was more of a team effort,” I admit, shaking my head to clear it. “Did you know? When I tried to tell you and you said I needed more sleep,

did you know?” The thought of her trying to convince me it was all in my head if she knew better is unbearable.

“I didn’t know. I swear, I didn’t know.” Her wide, brown eyes search mine. “Not until the wyvern was dropped at the front gates of Samara. Mom arrived about ten hours later and told me the truth—told all of the riders the truth.”

I blink through the shock. “She just…told you.”

“Yes.” Her chin dips as she nods. “She probably figured out there was no lying her way around a giant dead wyvern.”

And we’d already been on our way here.

“Xaden.” I reach out, not because I don’t trust my sister, but because I trust him more.

“If she said your mother confessed, then she’s telling the truth. We’re at the edge of the city now, just flying with the stragglers.”

“And what, she just let all forty of you leave?” I step out of her hug and gesture at the dragons perched on the walls around us. There’s no way they’d let dozens of riders desert.

“She gave us an hour to decide, and half of us chose to leave. We flew into other riders on the way who’d been given the same ultimatum. Leadership decided letting us go was a safer choice than letting us stay and talk the others into leaving, or worse, leaking information, and besides, it wasn’t really our choice, was it?” She glances back at Teine.

That’s… not right. Why would Mom and Melgren let them just… go?

“I think she knew I’d find—” She looks over my shoulder and freezes, then starts to tremble as her pupils blow wide.

“Mira?” I glance back to the house and see exactly what’s shaken her.

Brennan hurries down the steps, his mouth curving into a smile I can’t help but mirror. All three of us are here, and there are no words for how complete it feels. My eyes burn, blinking back the bittersweet yet wholly joyous emotion that threatens to overwhelm me.

We’re finally together again.

“Brennan?” Mira croaks, and I move back a couple of steps to give them room. “How?”

“Hey, Mira.” He’s less than a dozen feet away, his grin widening.

“You’re alive?” She stumbles forward, shaking her head. “After…I mean… It’s been six years, and you’re… alive?”

“In the flesh.” He opens his arms. “Gods, it’s good to see you.” She draws back her fist and punches him straight in the face.

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