Xaden vetoed my second pitch to head to Cordyn like an overprotective asshole, and then I happily took him to bed, content with my own plans. He was gone again to look for more Navarrian deserters before I
woke up this morning.
If I didn’t feel him in my swollen lips and every sore muscle in my body, I’d almost think I dreamed him coming back yesterday.
Guess this is our new normal.
“Well?” Felix folds his arms over his barrel chest and lifts a silver brow at me.
Crisp, snow-scented wind whips at my cheeks as we stand between our dragons, a thousand feet over the tree line on a bowl-shaped mountainside about a ten-minute flight from the valley above Aretia.
“Those boulders?” I point across the ridge to a stack of three boulders as Tairn shifts his weight, the snow crunching under his claws.
“Would it help if I painted them?”
I refrain from rolling my eyes. “No, it’s just that Carr never cared where I struck, as long as I increased the number of strikes in an hour.” I roll my shoulders and open the gates on Tairn’s power, feeling it rush through my veins and heat my skin.
Felix looks at me like I’ve grown another head. “Well, I guess we’ll see what that technique has gotten us.”
“I can wield twenty-six an hour on a good day, and I’ve been pushed over forty, but that last strike broke that mountain and… ” The memory steals my words.
“And you were nearly burned alive?” he asks. “Why in Malek’s name would you ever push yourself to that limit?”
“It was a punishment.” I lift my arms as power rises to a sizzling hum.
“For what?” He watches me with an expression I’m too jaded to call compassion.
“I ignored a direct order so I could protect my dragon.” The sizzle heats to a burn, and I flex my hands, letting the strike rip free.
The cloudy sky cracks open and lightning strikes on the opposite side of the bowl, hitting far above the tree line, easily a quarter mile from the boulders.
Felix blinks. “Try again.”
Reaching for Tairn’s power, I repeat the process, letting it fill me, then overflow and erupt, wielding another strike that lands halfway between the first and the stack of boulders. Pride makes my lips curve. Not bad timing. That was a pretty quick strike after the first.
But when I look at Felix, he isn’t smiling. He slowly brings his stunned gaze to mine. “What was that shit?”
“I did that in less than a minute after the first strike!” I counter.
“And if those boulders were dark wielders, you and I would be dead by now.” Two lines knit between his eyebrows. “Try again. And this time, let’s try the revolutionary tactic of aiming, shall we?”
His sarcasm fuels my frustration, and another strike rips free, hitting between us and the boulders.
“It’s a wonder you haven’t hit yourself,” he mutters, rubbing the bridge of his nose.
“I can’t aim, all right?” I snap at him, reevaluating my previous thoughts that he and Trissa—the petite, quiet one—were the nice members of the Assembly.
“According to the reports filed about Resson, you can,” he retorts, his deep voice rising with that last word. “You can aim well enough to hit a
dark wielder atop a flying wyvern.”
“That’s because Andarna stopped time, but she can’t do that anymore, so I’m left with what got us through the other portion of the battle—the good old strike-and-pray method.”
“And I have no doubt that in a field of that many wyvern, you did some damage with sheer luck.” He sighs. “Explain how you hit that last strike in Resson.”
“I… It’s hard to explain.” “Try.”
“I pulled it. I guess.” I wrap my arms around my waist to ward off the worst of the chill. Usually, I’d be warming up right about now, not feeling my toes start to lose feeling. “I released the strike, but I wrestled it into place while Andarna held time.”
“What about smaller strikes?” He turns fully to face me, his boots crunching the rock beneath us. “Like those that flow from your hands?”
What the fuck? My face must read the same because his eyes flare.
“Are you telling me that you’ve only wielded full strikes”—he points upward—“from the sky? That you just started throwing around bolts and never refined the skill?”
“I brought down a cliff on a classmate—that didn’t kill him—and from then Carr’s concern was how big and how often.” I lift my hands between us. “And lightning comes from the sky, not my hands.”
“Wonderful.” He laughs, the sound deep and… infuriating. “You just might wield the most devastating signet on the Continent, but you know nothing about it. Nothing about the energy fields that draw it. Instead of shooting your power like an arrow—precise and measured—you’re just heaving it around like boiling oil, hoping you hit something. And lightning comes from the sky or the ground depending on the storm, so why not your hands?”
Anger reddens my skin, raises my temperature, prickles my fingers, and pushes the power within me to a roar.
“You are slated to be the most powerful rider of your year—perhaps your entire generation—and yet you are just a glorified light show—”
Power erupts, and lightning flashes close enough that I feel the heat.
Felix glances to the right, where a scorch mark still smokes about twenty feet away.
Fuck. Shame races in to overpower the last vestiges of anger.
“And not only can you not aim, but you have no control,” he says without skipping a beat, like I didn’t almost torch us both.
“I can cont—”
“No.” He drops down to the pack at his feet and begins sorting through
“That wasn’t a question, Sorrengail. That was a fact. How often does
Whenever I’m angry. Or in Xaden’s arms. “Too often.”
“At least we found something to agree on.” He stands and holds something out to me. “Take it.”
“What is it?” I glance at the offering, then pluck it gingerly from his outstretched hand. The glass orb fits comfortably in my palm, and the decoratively carved silvery metal strips that quarter it meet at what appear to be the top and the bottom, where a silver medallion of alloy the size of my thumb rests upright inside the glass.
“It’s a conduit,” Felix explains. “Lightning may appear from various sources, but Tairn channels his power through you. You are the vessel. You are the pathway. You are the cloud, for lack of a better term. How else do you think you can wield from a blue sky? Did you never realize it’s easier for you to wield during a storm, but you’re capable of both?”
“I never thought about it.” My fingers tingle where they meet the metal striping.
“No, you were never taught it.” He gestures around the mountainside. “Your lack of aim, of control, is not your fault. It’s Carr’s.”
“Xaden only moves shadows that are already there,” I argue, fighting down the rising emotions I’m worried will lead to another embarrassing strike.
“Xaden can control and increase what already exists. It’s why he’s more powerful at night. No two signets are alike, and you create something that
was not there before. You wield pure power that takes the form of lightning because that’s what you’re most comfortable shaping it as. Apparently Carr never taught you that, either.”
“Why wouldn’t he?” I look from the orb up to Felix as the first flakes of snow flutter down. “If I was the best weapon?”
A corner of his mouth lifts into a wry smile. “Knowing Carr, I’d say he’s scared shitless of you. After all, you just took half of their cadets without even a plan. You brought down Basgiath on a fucking whim, no less.” His laugh is more incredulous than mocking this time, but it still rubs me the wrong way.
“I didn’t do that.” My fingers curl around the orb. “Xaden did.”
“He hunted riderless wyvern, deposited them on Melgren’s front door, and exposed Navarre’s greatest secret to the border outposts before noon,” Felix agrees. “But you were the one who demanded he give the cadets a choice. In that moment, you wielded him, our unyielding, uncompromising, headstrong heir apparent.”
“I did no such thing.” Energy buzzes, and I roll my shoulders as it vibrates through my limbs, building to a breaking point. “I presented a humane option, and he took it. He did it for the sake of the other cadets.”
“He did it for you,” Felix says softly. “The wyvern, the exposure, breaching Basgiath, stealing half its riders. All for you. Why do you think the Assembly wanted to lock you away in July? They saw what you were. In that way, I suppose you’re just as much a danger to Aretia as you are to Basgiath, aren’t you? Power isn’t only found in our signets.”
“I’m not powerful just because he loves me.” The bitter taste of fear fills my mouth a heartbeat before power breaks free, cracking through me like a whip, but lightning doesn’t flash. At least not in the sky.
I blink at the glowing orb, then marvel at the string of lightning that runs from where my forefinger rests against the metal strip to the alloy pendant inside. The bolt vanishes a breath later.
“No. You’re powerful and he loves you, which is even worse. Your power is too closely tied to your emotions,” Felix notes. “This will help. It’s
not a permanent solution, but it will keep everyone in Aretia safe from your temper for now.”
“I don’t understand.” And I can’t stop staring at the orb, like the tiny lightning bolt will reappear at any second.
“The runes etched into the conduit are woven to draw specific power. I wove these specifically for you the last time you were here, but you were forced to leave before I could teach you how to use it. I’d hoped you wouldn’t need it, honestly, but it seems Carr hasn’t changed much in the six years I’ve been gone.”
“Runes?” I repeat like a bird, staring at the etched shapes.
“Yes. Runes. Wielded power woven for set purposes.” He exhales slowly. “Which you know nothing about because Basgiath doesn’t teach Tyrrish runes, even if the college was fucking built on them. Guess we’ll ask Trissa to teach that class. She has the most patience out of the Assembly.”
I yank my gaze from the orb to Felix. “This… siphons my power?”
“Somewhat. I made it as a simpler way to imbue power into alloy. It will draw it from you when it threatens to overpower you or when you choose to direct it. Hopefully”—he lifts his brows—“in small, controlled amounts. Practice this week. You have to learn control, Sorrengail, or you’ll continue to be a threat to everyone around you. God forbid you’re flying in the clouds with your squad the next time you lose your temper.”
“I’m not a threat.”
“What you want to be doesn’t change what you are without work.” He picks up his pack and slings it over his shoulders. “You never learned how to start small, like the rest of your squad, and then move to the bigger, harder strikes. You have to master the basics you were never taught. Small, precise strikes. Small strands of your power instead of”—he gestures to the sky—“whatever in Dunne’s name that was.”
“I don’t have time to master small, precise strikes. I need help today,” I argue. “We need Tecarus to give us a luminary or—” I cut myself off.
“Or you and Xaden fucked the entire movement on that whim I mentioned earlier?” He lifts both brows at me.
“Something like that. It was a lot easier last year when all I had to worry about was keeping myself alive, and not the entire Continent.” And I failed. “Well, they do say second year makes or breaks you.” He delivers the joke with a straight face, but there’s a definite light in his eyes. “As for Tecarus, he wants to see you wield, not necessarily see you wield well. Your biggest obstacle there is convincing Xaden to fly with you, since I hazard to guess he’s not budging on the topic of you going. He already shut down the possibility in July.” He shrugs. “But we’re done for today. We’ll meet again in a week, and I’ll be able to tell by the amount of power stored in that alloy whether or not you’ve been practicing. Store enough, and I’ll continue to
“And if I don’t?” My fingers curl around the orb.
“I won’t,” he answers simply over his shoulder as he walks toward his Red Swordtail. “I’m not interested in wasting my time on cadets who don’t want to be taught when there are over a hundred who do.”
The scorch mark behind him. The untouched boulders. The blast sites across the ridge. They all capture my attention. He’s right. I’m a light show with deadly consequences, and the amount of times I’ve unleashed while close to my friends, close to Xaden… My throat tightens. I’m the menace everyone thinks Xaden is.
He might be a weapon, but I’m a natural disaster.
And I’m done letting everyone around me suffer because I can’t get my shit together.
“I want to learn,” I call after him. As soon as I get back.
“Good. Show me.”
re you sure about this?” Mira asks as we enter the valley under the brightest moon this month. Every blade of grass is coated with
predawn frost, reflecting back at us like glittering gems. “‘Sure’ is a relative term.”
“How relative?” She lifts her brows at me. “Because what we’re about to do could have some pretty major consequences.”
“I’m sure this is the only way we’ll be able to make the weapons we need.” I fasten the top button of my flight jacket to ward off the late-October chill. “And sure that if we stay on task, we can be back in two days max. I’m definitely sure that this will stop the gryphon attacks on Navarrian outposts. But am I sure that we won’t fail or end up permanent guests of Viscount Tecarus? No.”
“Well, I’m sure Xaden is going to lose his shit when he finds out you went behind his back,” Mira lectures as we make our way to our dragons.
“Yeah, well, Xaden will forgive me as soon as he realizes we’re back in the venin-slaying business. I’m only doing it this way because he refuses to do what needs to be done in the name of protecting me.”
“Just so you know, I’m only doing this because doing everything you ever ask for the rest of our lives still wouldn’t make up for me not believing you. I happen to like protective Xaden. Makes me worry about you less.”
I kind of miss when he wanted to kill me. At least then he didn’t insist on hovering.
“And I’m only doing this to make sure neither of you die,” Brennan chimes in from the right.
“Please.” Mira scoffs. “You’re only here because of the rank on your uniform.”
“Neither of you can negotiate an arms deal on behalf of the Assembly. You both know this could go very badly, right?” He shoves his hands in the pockets of his flight leathers.
“Is there a risk?” I nod and ignore the jump in my heart rate. “Yes. But he wants to see me wield for a luminary. Even Xaden said the biggest threat is him keeping me, not killing me.” And if I have to stay in Poromiel so my friends and family can be safe, then fine. As long as Brennan and Mira get to leave with the luminary, it’s a fair trade.
“Feel free to stay in the place you’ve called home for six years,” Mira challenges Brennan, then shrugs a shoulder. “I’ve always been better than you with a sword, anyway. I’ll bring Violet home without a scratch.”
“No.” I glance between them. Have they always bickered like this? “We’re not fighting the entire way there, and we sure as hell can’t fight once we get there. This is dangerous enough as it is. Pull yourselves together and quit squabbling.”
“Yes, Mom,” Mira mocks.
Mom. What would she think of the three of us working together?
We all fall silent, the quiet only broken by the frost crackling beneath our boots.
“Too soon?” Mira asks.
“I’d say so,” I answer, tightening the straps on my pack. “Definitely,” Brennan adds.
All three of us are faintly smiling when we reach the dragons.
“You sure you can find the way?” I ask Tairn after I secure my pack behind my saddle.
“I’m going to pretend you didn’t ask that.”
“And Sgaeyl?” I shift forward and buckle into the saddle, flinching as the cold seeps through my leathers.
“She’s out of range, but her emotions are calm.”
“And you promise not to tell her until we’re back?” I clutch the pommel and glance around the valley, looking for any sign of Andarna, but she’s nowhere to be seen.
“She’s already gone, and the Hungry One has been seething since this afternoon when she found out she wasn’t coming.” Tairn crouches low, then springs into the sky. The ground falls away with every powerful beat of his wings, and I foolishly hold my breath as we pass over a sleeping Aretia, as if the sound of my inhale might wake my friends.
Rhiannon is the only one who knows we’re going, and she’ll cover for us as much as possible. But even though I might be dispensable for a day, I have no doubt someone will notice Brennan is missing.
My cheeks are numb before we make it past Aretia, and my legs lose feeling by the time we reach the Cliffs of Dralor a couple of hours later. Flying for any amount of time this late in fall isn’t for the faint of heart.
Tairn flies through the morning, holding back his speed for Teine and Marbh as we glimpse Krovla’s second most populous city, Draithus, to the south and continue into the darkness ahead. The feeling seeps back into my limbs the lower in elevation that we fly and the higher the sun climbs.
“Sleep, Silver One. It’s not me Tecarus wants to see perform like some kind of pet.”
I take his advice and get as much rest as possible, but my jittery nerves have me shifting in my seat as we fly over land I’ve only seen in paintings. Amber fields ready for harvest give way to pale beaches and blue-green sea as the day passes into afternoon.
The closer we fly, the tighter the anxiety in my chest coils. This is either the best idea I’ve ever had… or the worst. By the time a drift of three gryphons appears, flying directly toward us in a standard V attack formation, I decide that we’re definitely leaning into worst idea territory.
Just because they’re smaller doesn’t mean they can’t deal Tairn some real damage with those talons.
“It’s all right. They’re escorting us into Cordyn,” Tairn tells me, but there’s a shift in his tone that tells me he’s not happy about the entourage or the speed he has to slow to in order to accommodate them. They spread out, flying in a formation that surrounds the six of us. “See that sorry excuse for a fortress on the eastern side of the farthest peak?” he asks as we follow the line of the beach. I’ve never seen water that color, like it can’t quite decide if it’s turquoise or aqua.
“You mean the palace that looks like it’s glowing?” The structure is a sprawling, glistening combination of white pillars and blue pools that cascade in five distinct terraces down the gentle slope of the hills above the beach.
“It’s just the sun reflecting off the white marble,” he grumbles. “The entire thing is ridiculous and indefensible.”
How… beautiful. What a luxury to build a place like this, designed purely for aesthetics. No high walls or portcullises. Tairn’s right. It’s utterly indefensible, and it will fall should venin choose to take it, but my heart clenches at the thought that I’ll never experience peace long enough to live
somewhere like it. I can even make out a vast, colorful garden as we approach over the riverside city beneath.
The gryphon ahead of us dips into a sharp descent and Tairn follows suit, tucking his wings and getting just close enough to the gryphon to let him know he’s no match.
“Stop intimidating them.” The last thing we need is an incident before we can even ask Tecarus for the luminary.
“I can’t help their inferiority.” There’s a definite smile in his tone, but his mood shifts as we level out near a manicured lawn in front of the third terrace of the palace. “You will not be happy with the welcome we’re about to receive.” He lands behind the gryphon and his flier, who hops down to face us.
“I’m sure we’ll be fine. You worry too much.” “We’ll see about that.”
I make quick work of removing my pack, but damn do my stiff joints ache as I slide down Tairn’s foreleg to land in the soft, green grass.
“Are you all right?” Mira asks, already waiting for me because she’s that
“Just sore from sitting in one position for so long.” Gods, it’s hot down here.
“Maybe we should have sent word ahead. They look like they’d rather fight than negotiate.” She turns her attention forward, to the line of three gryphons and their fliers, who all face down our dragons despite being drastically overpowered, forming a wall of feather and talons that blocks us from proceeding to the palace.
“They’re certainly brave, I’ll give them that,” I mutter as Brennan reaches our sides, putting me between him and Mira. Some things never change.
“They’re also expecting us,” Brennan notes quietly as we start forward. “You think?” Mira asks, her gaze scanning our surroundings.
I keep my focus on the fliers and their hands.
“There are at least three dozen people watching from the balconies above, and there’s another group behind the gryphons,” Brennan states.
“They were waiting.”
“Plus, no one’s screaming at the sight of our dragons,” I add quietly. Mira grins. “True.”
“Be careful what you say in here. Tecarus will hold us to whatever deal we make. He doesn’t take kindly to broken words. And keep your shields up, though I’m not sure they’ll do much good,” Brennan orders when we’re less than a dozen feet from the fliers. “Fliers might not wield signets, but most of their lesser-magic gifts involve mindwork, and it’s the one area where they have the upper hand on us.”
“Noted.” I don’t even need to check my shields. They’ve been locked into place since we left Aretia.
The gryphons stare down at us with dark, beady eyes as we approach and click their razor-sharp beaks in a rhythm that reminds me of speech. The aggressive snaps of the one on the right make me glad I can’t understand what they’re saying.
Two of the fliers wear the same brown leathers I’ve seen before on Syrena, but the guy on the left with the patchy beard has a lighter-colored one and different symbols embroidered on his collar.
“Cadet?” I ask Tairn.
“Yes.” He pauses. “According to the feathered ones, a third of their ranks took shelter here. Cliffsbane Flight Academy was in Zolya.”
Brennan says something in Krovlish, his tone changing into the curt one he uses when his rank is more important than his name.
“We know who you are,” the tall flier in the center interrupts in the common tongue, studying the three of us as if assessing which is the biggest threat. His attention lands on my wind-ravaged coronet braid and his posture changes slightly, taking on the most casual of battle stances.
Guess I win.
Mira moves closer to my side and stares him down, her hand resting just above the hilt of her sword.
“And you speak Navarrian,” Brennan notes.
“Of course. Not every kingdom thinks theirs is the only language that should be spoken,” the flier on the left says, her fingers drumming along her
“Give us one truth, and we’ll allow you to meet with the viscount,” the central flier says, his reddish brows knitting.
“You’re a truth-sayer.” Like Nora. It’s a guess, but I know I’m right when his pale eyes flare. So, some of our powers are the same. Interesting.
“Unlike riders, we do not label ourselves by our abilities, but yes, I have the gift of telling when someone is lying,” he corrects me.
“Noted,” I say for the second time in the last five minutes. I fucking hate being disadvantaged by ignorance, but it’s not like the Archives were stacked with tomes on fliers or what they’ve gone through for the last six hundred years.
“Seeing as you’ve arrived without invitation, we require you have honest intentions before traveling farther.” His hands flex near his daggers, and Mira palms the hilt of her sword.
We’re one misstep away from drawing weapons, and we all know it.
“I’m here to wield lightning in return for asking your viscount for help.” May as well start us out.
He cocks his head to the side, then nods, glancing toward Brennan.
“I’m here to broker a deal for your luminary in return for weaponry,” Brennan declares.
The flier nods and looks at Mira.
“Fine.” She sighs. “Make one wrong move toward my sister, and I’ll gut you like a fish. That goes for everyone in this city. How is that for honest?”
My mouth opens slightly as I glance sideways at my sister. “Damn it, Mira,” Brennan growls.
The flier’s mouth curves into a toothy smile. “I can respect that.” He glances up at the gryphon above him, and the trio parts, revealing the figure waiting directly behind them.
A figure dressed entirely in black.
His jaw flexes, his hands curl at his sides, and his beautiful face… Well, he hasn’t looked at me with that much anger since discovering my last
name at Parapet, back when he wanted to kill me. Guess I should be careful what I ask for, because I’m so fucked.
“You aren’t where I left you, Violence.”