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Chapter no 42

Iron Flame (The Empyrean Book 2)

“Is that…” Mira whispers, already palming her daggers as the dark wielder digs his hands into the soft green grass of the arena floor,

laughing maniacally. Breathe. I have to breathe. But there’s no air.

Purple robes billowing. Soleil charging forward, Fuil running behind her. The spread of death and decay reaching them both. The fall. Their bodies becoming nothing more than husks, drained of power and life.

“Silver One!” Tairn’s roar splits my head, ripping me from the past before it swallows me whole. Rain splatters the ground around us, falling in heavy but sporadic drops. This isn’t Resson, this is Cordyn, and I have to protect Mira.

“Move!” I scream at the guards, two of whom run while one other scrambles backward, leaving the last to stare in frozen shock. “Get out of here,” I order Mira, sizzling heat filling my veins as I open the floodgates on Tairn’s power.

“I’m not leaving you with that thing!” She flicks her dagger.

“No!” I shout, but it’s too late—the dagger lands in the venin’s shoulder. He hisses, ripping the weapon free and grabbing for the petrified guard in the same breath.

“Great, and now he has a knife!” I lift my hands and release the energy burning through my limbs.

Lightning cracks, so white it’s almost blue, and I throw up my hand to shield my eyes as it strikes the iron chest as though drawn to it. Sparks shower the arena, one singeing the back of my hand before I can brush it off.

“Tairn, I need you!” “On the way.”

Panic threatens to grab hold of me, and I waste precious seconds looking over my shoulder at where Xaden is already lunging for the steps. “Stay put and keep your emotions to yourself. We need that luminary.”

“Violence—”

“I can do this.” If I can’t take on one emaciated venin, then what chance does the Continent stand?

The wind shifts, blowing my hair into my face, and I twist to see the venin’s hands wrap around the guard’s neck, but I don’t need to watch to know exactly what’s about to happen.

“Only the alloy-hilted daggers can kill him,” I tell Mira, yanking my dagger from its sheath and slicing through a strip of fabric in my hem. If I can’t aim, this is coming down to hand-to-hand.

The screams of the guard cut straight through me.

“Holy shit… He’s really… What’s the plan, Vi?” Mira asks, gripping her other knife.

“Kill him before he kills us, and whatever you do, don’t let him get his hands on you.” I grab my hair into a low ponytail and wrap the fabric from my dress around it to secure it quickly. I’m dead if I can’t see.

The venin holds the guard like a shield, blocking me from any potential knife throw. The screams stop as the man slowly desiccates before my eyes. At least two of the other three are already off the field.

Letting Tairn’s power consume me, I wield again and again, scorching the grass around the venin without fucking hitting him. The guard falls to the ground, parts of him flaking off as the rain pelts harder and faster.

“Damn it!”

“It’s you,” the dark wielder says over the growing noise of the storm. “The one who commands the sky.” His eyes widen in eerie excitement.

“Oh, how I’ll be rewarded when I return with you.”

“And here I was thinking I was the only Sorrengail with a reputation beyond the border.” Mira takes a fighting stance, keeping only inches between us.

“By your Sage?” I ask him, tracking his movements as rain falls in sheets. Shit, I can’t chance throwing my dagger. If I miss, I’m defenseless, and it’s not just me on this field. “I need daggers.”

“Which Sage? I promise, you’ll wish—” he starts, raising his arms.

“For death?” I interrupt. “Already heard it. I killed that messenger, too.” But I wasn’t in a cumbersome ball gown. This thing is a fucking liability.

“Behind you,” Xaden says.

I glance back and see two alloy-hilted daggers embedded in the ground five feet away. “Mira!”

She follows my line of sight and is already moving when I flip my dagger to its tip and flick my wrist, throwing for the dark wielder’s throat.

The dagger sinks into his side.

Shit, I didn’t account for the downward pressure of the driving rain.

The venin shouts in pain, yanking the dagger loose as Mira hands me one of the two Xaden flung our way. My fingers grip the water-slick handle, and I prepare myself for the worst when the venin lifts his hands.

But it’s not the daggers he throws.

The Rybstad chest hurtles toward us, coming so quickly that I barely have time to knock Mira to the ground before it passes by, close enough that I hear it split the air.

A dagger immediately follows, then another, missing me but pinning the left side of my dress to the ground. I use our momentum to keep rolling, the diaphanous silk tearing away as I’m pulled to my feet by Brennan—who’s decided to join us, I guess.

Gods, no. I can’t lose them both in this.

“We need to surround him,” Brennan says, grabbing the alloy-hilted dagger from the sodden grass. Water collects quickly, soaking my feet, my hair, and what’s left of my dress.

“And how would you like to do that if we can’t see him through this shit?” Mira asks.

“I’m minutes out!” Tairn bellows.

We might be dead in those minutes, but we’re all dead eventually if I don’t secure that fucking luminary.

“We have to keep him on the field, no matter what. One of them is capable of draining everyone in the palace,” I tell my siblings. Back-to-back, we scan the field, and my breath catches when the dark wielder comes into view, dropping to a knee about twenty feet away.

No. Time slows to sluggish heartbeats as I watch him reach for the ground.

There’s no time to run. We won’t make it.

My worst nightmare is seconds away from becoming reality. Our mission is going to kill my brother and sister.

“I’m so sorry.” It’s barely a whisper.

His fist slams into the ground, and through the storm, I watch in breathless horror as his eyes burn fire red, the grass around him shriveling into brown blades.

“Mira!” Brennan shouts. “Shield!”

“I…I can’t this far from the wards!” Her mouth drops as death races for us, the ground rippling as it surrenders its magic.

“Shield or we’re dead!” Brennan grabs onto us both and yanks us into a tight hold.

I tuck in, hoping to make our trio as small as possible, while Mira throws her arms up over us. Her body trembles, and Brennan and I wrap our arms around her back to keep her steady. She screams as though she’s being ripped apart.

She’s going to burn out.

Shadows stream toward us, but they won’t make it.

“I love you.” I push the thought Xaden’s way and wait for my power to bleed out, wait for my death to make the venin unstoppable.

But it doesn’t come.

“You will live!” Xaden orders, as if it’s that simple.

Mira collapses, and Brennan takes the brunt of her weight as I scan our surroundings.

The entire field is dead with the exception of the tiny circle we occupy. She saved us. But it’s just the field that’s drained. The spectators are all alive and well above the steps from what I can see through the downpour. All the stone was quarried from Braevick, from east of the Dunness River. Isn’t that what Tecarus said?

I wipe the water from my eyes and stand to face the dark wielder.

He rolls his shoulders in satisfaction, a blissful smile distorting his features as he throws his head back.

“If you can’t strike him with lightning, then we’ll have to get close enough to engage. He can’t take both of us,” Brennan says, lifting an unconscious Mira into his arms.

“How far are you?” I ask Tairn. Rain doesn’t strike the remains of the grass as much as it splashes into water that has yet to run off.

“Less than a minute.”

“I don’t have to strike him,” I whisper as the idea hits, scanning the flooded field. “Get Mira to the steps. You’ll be safe there.”

Brennan looks at me like I’ve just suggested our world is flat. “Until the next time he drains—”

“I need you to trust me. Get our sister to the steps.” I glance up at my brother and soak myself in Tairn’s power, giving it free rein, letting it fill every inch of my body.

“Violet—” There’s so much love and worry and fear in his gaze that I can’t help but force a smile.

“I know what I’m doing. Now, run.” I take the alloy-hilted blade from Brennan and turn away from them both.

“What the fuck are you doing, Violence?” Xaden demands.

“Shh. I’m concentrating.” I slam my shields up, blocking him out as the venin pivots.

The asshole smiles wider when he sees me.

“You’ll be quite the prize,” he calls out over the rain, striding toward me as if we have all the time in the world. “And to think, you’ll bring a dragon

with you! You can’t be parted for long, can you?”

I grasp an alloy-hilted dagger in each hand and wait. If I lose my temper, I’m dead.

Charge him and lose? I’m dead.

Wait too long and let him get his hands on me? Yep, dead.

The female I killed on Tairn’s back watched my fighting style and instantly adapted, which means I have to wait until the last possible second to show my hand.

Rain sizzles as it hits my heated skin. If I reach for much more, I’ll lose the ability to control it and burn out, so I hover on that edge as I hear another sound overpower the rain.

Wings.

“I don’t need to stress the importance of timing, do I?” Tairn asks.

“My timing will be perfect.” The pounding of my heart steadies with each step the venin takes, sure of my course. There’s no room for error. I glance right just long enough to see that Mira and Brennan made it off the field.

“I expect nothing less.”

The dark wielder is only feet away, his gaze raking over me, no doubt looking for my weaknesses, when I feel the gust of wind from Tairn’s wings at my back.

Now. I throw the daggers at the venin simultaneously, this time calculating for the force of the rain. The instant I see them slice through his boots, pinning his feet to the ground, I whip my arms out to the side, releasing all my power in a scalding torrent of lightning.

I stiffen my arms and lock every muscle.

Tairn’s talons wrap over my shoulders and grasp tight exactly as lightning strikes behind the enraged venin, lighting up the sky in a brilliant flash—and charging the water that covers the arena and the venin’s feet with lethal energy.

The dark wielder shrieks in agony, then falls dead, splashing into the field as we fly overhead.

I did it. Dunne be blessed, I did it.

“You cut it close.”

I roll my eyes and breathe deeply despite the rain that runs down my face as Tairn banks left, taking us along the curve of the arena, back to the palace.

Sgaeyl, Teine, and Marbh have all taken up defensive perches on the terrace above, positioning themselves to incinerate the crowd.

“I will devour anyone who makes a move against you. My patience has ended.” Tairn’s wings beat slower as we approach the patio.

“I’ll be sure to warn them.” Tairn waits until I have my balance on my soaked, slippered feet, then stalks forward through the crowd to the cries of fliers and aristocrats alike, cracking the marble beneath his claws until he reaches the grass and pivots, swinging his tail like the weapon it is and completing the four-cornered defense the dragons have structured.

Brennan falls into step with me, Mira propped under his arm but walking on her own beside him.

“You all right?” I ask under my breath as we pass nobles with umbrellas.

This was fucking entertainment for them.

“We’re not the ones you should be concerned for,” Brennan mutters as the last line of aristocrats—including Cat and Syrena—parts, revealing a situation far more dangerous than the one I was just in.

Xaden’s lifted hand is raised at his chest, clenched in a partial fist, and wrath chills his eyes as he stares up at the viscount, whose feet kick for the ground.

Tecarus tears ineffectually at the shadows strangling his neck and, from the garbled sound of his breathing, he’s slowly asphyxiating.

“Xaden, please don’t!” Cat cries.

Xaden’s grip only tightens as the rain dissipates to a drizzle.

Tecarus gurgles, and fliers draw their weapons, but one growl from Sgaeyl is enough to keep them from advancing on Xaden.

I lower the portion of my shields that allows Xaden in, then send every ounce of my love down the bond. “I’m all right.”

He tears his gaze from Tecarus, the barely caged fury in his eyes making him nearly unrecognizable.

“Loosen your grip on his throat,” I say calmly. “He can’t answer questions if he’s dead.”

Two lines appear between Xaden’s dark brows, and his grip eases. Moving to his side, I make sure that my shoulder brushes his arm, that he can feel me physically as well as mentally. “You’re lucky you’re not dead,” I say up at Tecarus’s blotchy face. “If you’d put Xaden in that kind of danger, I’m not sure I would have been as merciful.”

“You call this mercy?” Tecarus asks through gasped breaths, still kicking for the ground.

“Yes,” Xaden says softly.

“You quarried the stones from east of the Dunness River, the land that borders the Barrens. It had already been drained of its magic.”

“Yes!” Tecarus shouts.

Xaden swears under his breath.

“You built a pit for them, which means you’ve captured more than just that one.” Puffs of steam rise from my skin, but at least I don’t feel like I’m burning alive.

“I’ll tell you everything we know,” Tecarus assures us. “Just let me down.”

“And we’re supposed to trust you?” Brennan asks from my other side. “We were able to keep that one from feeding for days—”

“Because the runes on the Rybstad chest hold items placed inside suspended in midair,” Xaden interrupts. “He couldn’t reach the ground to drain it until you opened the chest. I don’t need you to tell me things I already know.” He drops his hand, and the shadows evaporate.

Tecarus slams into the marble patio, grasping for his throat.

Xaden crouches down. “If you ever want to have words about why I severed that alliance, then you come for me. Violet is beyond your reach. If you so much as look her direction with anything but the utmost kindness and respect, I’ll kill you without a second thought and let Syrena take her place as your heir. Do you understand me?” His voice has that icy softness that sends chills up my spine.

Tecarus nods.

“Apologize.”

“I’m fine.” He’s taking this too far. This man is second in line to the Poromish throne.

“You do not take punishments designed for me.”

“You have my most sincere apology, Violet Sorrengail,” Tecarus croaks through abused vocal cords. “Now where does this leave us, Riorson?”

Xaden stands. “Now we negotiate.”

A

 

n hour later, we’re fed and changed into dry flight leathers, the four of us sitting across the cleared dining room table from Tecarus, Cat,

Syrena, half a dozen aristocrats, and one general immediately to Tecarus’s left.

Every person in the room is unarmed with the exception of Xaden and me, but our signets make it so we’re never defenseless.

“May I present my offer first?” Tecarus asks, tugging his collar away from the red welts across his throat.

“You may,” Brennan answers.

Xaden’s hand slides over my left thigh and stays there. He’s had one hand on me since leaving the patio. It’s amazing I managed to get into my flight leathers, but I get it. If I’d just watched him face down a venin, I’d probably be in his fucking lap right now.

“Your power is…astounding.” Tecarus shakes his head slowly at me, as if awestruck. “And you’re still untrained. Just think of what you’ll be a few years from now, or even one.”

Xaden’s hand splays wide, and I lace my fingers over his.

“That doesn’t sound like an offer.” I keep my voice as level as possible, trying like hell to ignore that this man nearly killed not only me but Brennan and Mira.

Anger rises to boiling wrath swiftly—too swiftly.

I glance at Cat. “Stay out of my head or I’ll start wielding inside.”

She leans back in her chair, but that narrowing of her eyes isn’t defeat.

Oh no, she’s sizing me up as a worthy opponent.

Game on.

“Do you know why I’m such a successful collector?” the viscount asks, practically vibrating with excitement. “I have a gift for knowing what it is people want, what motivates them to give up their treasures.” Gods, he’s Varrish’s opposite. Our signets really aren’t that different than mindwork. “I think you and I could strike a deal if you consider that I could deliver your wildest dreams.”

Xaden strokes my thigh absentmindedly, but it helps keep me grounded. “And what do you think my wildest dreams are?” I ask.

“Peace.” Tecarus nods, his movements growing more erratic the more excited he becomes. “Not for you, of course. That’s not what motivates you. Peace for the people you love.”

Xaden’s fingers still.

“Peace for him,” Tecarus finishes.

My next breath is shaky. “I’m listening.”

He presents his offer, and I have to admit, for a second, it’s tempting. Spending a few years as his personal guard dog, monitoring the riderless wyvern who have begun flying over routinely in patterns that look suspiciously like control, in return for living out the rest of my days with Xaden, our dragons, and my loved ones on an isle committed to peace sounds perfect. It’s also the coward’s way out and completely unfeasible. The isles don’t accept Navarrians even as visitors.

“Running away from the Continent to whatever land you’ve secured from the Deverelli isn’t going to help the people I like or the ones I don’t even know. It’s just that—running away.”

Tecarus’s jaw flexes, and I get the impression he’s not used to being told

no.

“Even if I give the luminary to Tyrrendor?” He glances at Brennan.

“Word spread quickly that Navarre let your cadets go without so much as a drop of blood spilled. Though I do wonder why that is, don’t you?”

Yes. Every day.

“Dragons owe you no explanation.” Brennan shrugs. “And my sister just

earned the luminary. Or are you going back on your deal?”

“I would never break my word.” Tecarus glances Xaden’s way and leans forward onto the heavily embroidered forearms of his tunic. “Everything we know about the dark wielders.” He nods at the silver-browed general, who slides a leather-bound book across the table to Brennan. My fingers immediately itch to open the cover. “But I never said I would give you the luminary if she wielded. I said we would enter discussions.”

You have to be fucking kidding me. My hand tightens over Xaden’s, like that’s going to stop him from strangling the viscount with shadows or me from losing absolute control of my power. I should have brought the conduit into the meeting.

“Then let’s discuss. What do you want in exchange for us leaving with the luminary today? Weapons?” Brennan asks. “Because that’s what we’re offering. The luminary is useless here, but we’ll put it to use supplying your drifts with the weapons they need for the venin you can’t capture.”

Hopefully the details of how they managed to catch that one are in the book.

“Weapons are a good start,” Tecarus agrees with a nod, his gaze sliding to Cat. “And you take the hundred flier cadets I’ve given shelter to after their academy was destroyed back to Aretia with the luminary.”

I’m sorry…what the fuck?

“And what would you like us to do with your cadets?” Xaden asks, tilting his head slightly. “Gryphons don’t fare well at altitude.”

“They’ve never been given the chance to adjust,” Tecarus argues. “And I want you to educate them just as I assume you are doing with the rider cadets. Keep them safe, teach them to work together, and we might have a chance of surviving this war. We’ve seen riderless wyvern patrolling the skies, no doubt reporting what they see instantly to their creators, in the last few weeks. Our reports say they’ve ventured as far west as Draithus. It won’t help the fliers to stay safe here in the south—not when they want to fight. And who better to teach the fliers how to kill wyvern than dragon riders?”

Train with gryphon fliers? Take Cat back to Aretia? I would rather face down a dozen venin. Unarmed. Without Tairn or Andarna.

“There’s no way to fly them into Tyrrendor,” Mira points out.

A muscle in Xaden’s jaw flexes. “There is. But there’s no guarantee they’ll survive it.”

“We’ll take the chance,” Syrena answers. “It’s the cadets’ best shot at living long enough to fight the dark wielders.”

“This is my offer. Take it or leave it,” Tecarus demands. There’s no way—

“Done,” Brennan answers. “As long as each flier we take brings a crossbolt with them.”

I’m going to throttle my brother.

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