Chapter no 44

Iron Flame (The Empyrean Book 2)

Booted feet scurry toward me from both directions, and Sloane grabs hold of Ridoc as Dain hits his knees beside me, then lunges forward,

reaching for Luella at the same moment Cibbe does.

I rip my gaze from Ridoc’s and focus on Luella’s hazel eyes as she slips down my limp fingers.

“Hold on!” I demand. They just need another second.

But she slips farther, and Cibbe’s beak closes on nothing as she loses her grip and falls, the cloud swallowing her whole.

“Luella!” a woman shouts from the left.

Cibbelair screams, and the shrill sound vibrates through my chest as I stare and stare and stare at the space where Luella was, as if she’ll somehow emerge from the mist.

As if there’s any chance she’s alive.

“Damn it!” Dain quickly pushes back onto his knees. “Vi—”

“I can’t move.” My voice drops to a whimper. “My shoulder’s out.” Any second, the adrenaline will wear off and the true pain of the injury will hit.

“All right.” His tone immediately softens. “I’ve got you.” His hands wrap around my rib cage, and he carefully lifts me to my feet, my right arm hanging uselessly at my side.

Cibbe’s screams become a keening wail.

“Something feels wrong,” Tairn says.

“It’s all fucking wrong.”

“You dropped her!” Cat charges toward us from the other side of Cibbe, fury rightfully etched in every line of her scowl.

“I never had her.” My chest crumples under the unbearable weight of the guilt because she’s partially right. I may not have dropped her, but I didn’t save her, either.

“Cat, no.” Maren hurries around us, putting her hands out as if to block her best friend. “I saw it happen. It’s not Violet’s fault. Luella almost killed both of the riders because she couldn’t jump the trap.”

“You fucking dropped her!” Cat surges against Maren. “Cibbe saved your precious rider, and you dropped our flier! I will kill you for this!”

“Knock it off!” Maren shouts. “You kill her, you kill Riorson. Everyone knows it.”

Fuck, it always comes down to that, doesn’t it? “I can—” Cat starts.

“Take one step toward Violet, and I’ll throw you off this fucking cliff myself,” Dain warns, his voice low and menacing. “Unlike Riorson, I don’t give a shit who your uncle is.”

“I’ll do it just for fun,” Sloane adds.

“Ridoc,” I manage to say around the pain that throbs from my shoulder then devours the rest of me.

“Alive,” he answers weakly.

“Cat, let it go. Cibbe doesn’t have long,” Maren says, her hand trembling as she reaches for the gryphon.

Cat breathes deeply, then nods, moving to the gryphon’s side.

“Gryphons die with their fliers,” Maren explains, her tone softening as she strokes the line where feathers turn to fur.

Like Tairn and me.

Cibbe lets loose a stuttered, three-beat cry, and the entire cliff, both above us and below, echoes it, as though the gryphons grieve the loss of the flier as one.

The beat of wings approaches as Dain leads me back from the edge, and I watch the mist, waiting for a flash of orange, for Marbh and Brennan to


“Put my shoulder back in.” My voice croaks as I glance at Dain. “Shit. Are you serious?” He lifts his brows.

“Do it. Just like when I was fourteen.” “And seventeen,” he mutters.

“Exactly. You know how to do it, and we don’t have any healers nearby.”

“You don’t want to wait for Brennan?” Dain takes hold of my arm. “Brennan will try to mend me first, and Ridoc is dying. Now do it!” I snap, bracing for the pain.

A strap of leather appears in front of my face. “Bite down,” Maren orders over Cibbe’s cries.

I can’t look at him, can’t watch his healthy body die just like Liam’s had, so I face forward and bite.

“One.” Dain lifts my arm slightly and adjusts. “Two.” He brings my arm out to a ninety-degree angle.

My teeth mark the leather as I fight the scream working its way up my throat. Ridoc has been shot with two arrows. I can handle this.

“I’m so fucking sorry,” Dain whispers, putting his other hand between my neck and shoulder. “Three!” He rolls my arm forward and I clench my jaw, my eyes squeezing shut as white-hot pain sends stars flashing across my vision and he puts the joint back into place.

The relief from the worst of the pain is instant, and I remove the leather from between my teeth. “Thank you.”

“Never thank me for that.” He lifts my arm above my head, making sure it’s in place, rotates it back down, then bends my elbow, tucking my arm across my chest before sliding his belt off and fashioning a temporary sling. “How is he?” he asks over his shoulder.

“Losing blood,” Sloane answers as an orange claw lands on the ledge where the trap had been and Brennan executes a perfect roll-on landing.

“Are you—” He comes running at me, scanning me for blood. “I’m fine! Save Ridoc!”

“Fuck.” Brennan levels a look at Dain’s leg. “You’re next.”

“It’s just a graze.” Dain glances down at me. “It just caught the edge of my thigh.”

Brennan crouches next to Ridoc and starts working.

“It’s all right,” Maren tells Cibbe as the gryphon collapses, his head hanging over the edge of the cliff as his cries grow softer. “You have earned an honorable death.”

Another set of wingbeats fills the air, and I face the mist, waiting for Tairn’s disapproving scowl. But I don’t feel him any closer than before.

“You did not ask me to fetch you,” he says sternly.

The mist parts like a scene from a nightmare, and gray, gaping jaws fill my vision, opening wide to reveal dripping teeth that snap closed around Cibbe’s neck, snatching the gryphon from the ledge before falling back into the mist.

My heart stops.

“What the fuck—” Sloane whispers.

“Wyvern,” I manage to whisper, my head swiveling toward Maren and Cat. They’re the only people here who’ve seen one. “Wyvern, right?”

“Wyvern,” Cat replies, her eyes wide with shock. Maren is still as a statue.

“Wyvern!” Dain bellows, and all hell breaks loose.

“We can’t see anything in the cloud cover,” Tairn growls.

“But they can see well enough to eat us!” I can already feel him on the move. Thank gods Andarna is in Aretia. “Get up the cliff!” I shout at Maren, grasping her shoulder with my uninjured hand and shaking her to snap her out of it. “Get Daja up the cliff!”

She blinks, then nods. “Daja!”

Dain yanks me out of the path as the gryphon charges forward, and I can only hope the adrenaline rush is enough to get them up the last couple of ascents.

“I can’t move him,” Brennan says, his sight solely focused on Ridoc’s wounds. “I’m blocking most of his pain, but I can’t move him, Vi.”

“And we’re sitting ducks here,” Sloane mutters, looking at the mist as more riders and gryphons push by.

“Go,” Ridoc whispers, opening his eyes and finding mine. “Get off this trail.”

I kneel beside him and take his hand. “We made a deal, remember? All four of us live to see graduation. We. Made. A. Deal.”

“Ridoc?” Sawyer pushes toward us, his eyes bulging with fear as he brings up the last of our squad and Tail Section begins.

“They can’t see,” Brennan says, his voice tensing as his hands move, snapping one arrow in half, and then the second. “Aetos, the dragons can’t see!”

“On it!” Dain looks up the cliff, and I hold Ridoc’s hand tight as Brennan slides the first arrow out of his abdomen.

“You’re on what exactly?” Sawyer snaps at Dain.

“Cath is relaying to Gaothal that Cianna needs to wield some wind so the riot can see,” Dain responds. “You can’t do anything here, Henrick, so get the others to safety!”

Sawyer clenches his fists. “If you think I’m going to leave my squadmates—”

“Sounds like your wingleader gave you an order, cadet,” Brennan says, his tone flat.

“Take Sloane.” I look over at her as she draws back, clearly offended. “I had to hold Liam while he died, his dragon already eviscerated by the jaws of a wyvern, and I will not watch his sister suffer the same fate. Get up the fucking cliff!”

Sawyer all but lifts Sloane to her feet, and the two join into the steady, hurried march as the clouds begin to thin.

“How powerful is Cianna?” I ask Dain quietly, absorbing the pressure of Ridoc’s squeezing hand as Brennan works the second arrow free.

His tense expression answers the question for him.

The visibility may be improving, but it’s not nearly enough to see what we’re up against, and even if it were, without crossbolts, I’m the best weapon we have.

“I’ve already come to that conclusion.” Gusts of air hit my back from the force of Tairn’s wings.

“Right.” I let go of Ridoc’s hand and brush his hair back up his forehead. “You will not die. Do you understand?”

He nods, his dark brown eyes fluttering closed as I stand.

“Where do you think you’re going?” Brennan asks, his concentration wavering.

“I’m the best shot you’ve got. We both know it.” “Fuck,” Brennan mutters.

“Find every wind wielder we have,” I tell Dain as I walk to the brink of the ledge, temporarily stopping traffic as Tairn swings his massive body around to face Poromiel. “I think there’s a storm wielder in First Wing. Not as powerful as my mother, but if we can raise the temperature it should help clear the clouds.”

“Violet!” Brennan calls out. “If we can’t clear the clouds, then use them to your advantage! No one here is as powerful as General Sorrengail. Come up with another plan.”

Ever the tactician.

“We could send the entire riot in,” Dain suggests.

“And if there’s one rider on that wyvern, we could lose the entire riot.” I shake my head.

“You’re wounded. You know that, right?” Dain questions me, glancing at his belt.

“And you’re a memory reader.” His gaze narrows.

“Oh, were we not stating obvious facts?” I study the clouds around us, looking for any break, any sign of blue sky. “Hate to break it to you, but your signet isn’t exactly helpful in this situation.”

“No time for this.” Tairn lays his massive tail beside the ledge while keeping a steady hover.

“Would Riorson let you rush off into a battle against gods know how many wyvern—or worse, the venin who created them—when you’re wounded?” His eyebrows rise.

“Yes.” I step out onto the midpoint of Tairn’s tail, my stomach settling at the familiar territory beneath my boots as I look back over my shoulder at

Dain. “That’s why I love him.”

I don’t wait for his response, not when Tairn is a giant target. He holds remarkably steady as I walk forward, navigating his spikes and scales with ease.

“The flier’s death is not your fault,” Tairn tells me as I find my saddle and lower into the seat.

“We’ll save that for another day.” I fumble with the belt for precious seconds. This fucking thing is nearly impossible with one arm, but I manage by holding the strap in my right hand and fastening with my left. “You know I can’t wield with one hand, right?”

“You don’t need me to tell you your limits.” Tairn dives and I’m thrown forward in my seat as we plummet through thousands of feet of dissipating clouds.

“You can’t feel them, can you?”

“I was aware something felt off, but if I could accurately detect wyvern

—if any of us could—without seeing them, we wouldn’t be in this position.”

Fair point.

Wind bites at my face, and tears streak from my eyes, but I’m not going to waste precious arm movements on getting my goggles from my pack. We emerge from the cloud cover and level out just beneath it.

“The ascents are clear,” Tairn says. “We will not risk the high ground if there are no riders to defend.” With great beats of his wings, we jolt upward, back into the mist.

“Are there other dragons out here?” I reach for the buckle of Dain’s belt and carefully pull the leather aside to slip my arm free. I’m going to need it as soon as we’re done. “I don’t want to hit anyone by accident.” Even if hitting the wyvern would probably be an accident, given my aim.

“They’re all above, guarding the riders.”

“Good.” We fly straight through the thickest parts of the cloud, but there’s no trace of the wyvern.

Until they—as in two of them—fly by on either side of us, streaks of gray in the otherwise endless white.


Tairn flies high, pushing up into blue sky.

Clouds stretch from the cliffs over the surrounding landscape. No wonder the riot didn’t see the wyvern. They have the perfect cover.

And Cianna isn’t powerful enough to dissipate all this. Use it. That’s what Brennan suggested.

Wyvern aren’t just alive…they’re created. They carry a form of energy forced into them by dark wielders.

“I have an idea.”

“I approve.” Tairn sails into the cloud cover. “I’ve told Gaothal to instruct his rider to stop eliminating the clouds and instead push them away from the cliff.”

“Just from where the path is. Until then, keep the wyvern distracted.” I clutch the pommel of the saddle with my uninjured hand and shove my right hand into my flight jacket between the buttons to stabilize my shoulder as much as possible.

Then Tairn dives back into the mist.

“Only two that Aotrom can see,” Tairn announces, his wings beating the clouds into little swirl patterns behind us. “The cover has thinned enough to the north to make out their shapes.”

“A patrol?”

“Riderless,” he confirms.

“Thank you, Zihnal.” I lean forward as tears streak from the corners of my eyes. “I know, I know. Dragons pay no heed to our gods.”

Tairn snorts, following a pattern of swirls similar to his own. He’s tracking the wyvern.

“You’re faster than they are, right?” Fear licks down my spine.

“Don’t insult me when we’re headed into battle.”

“Right,” I mutter to myself.

“Feel like using the conduit?” Tairn asks as two tails appear ahead.

“Nope. Aiming is detrimental to the goal.”

“Understood.” His wings beat faster, propelling us to a speed that leaves my stomach behind and narrows my vision as he pulls up above the wyvern to catch their attention.

It works, and my stomach hollows as we switch from the predator to the prey.

“If there were only one, I’d rip his throat out and call it a day.” “I know.” But there’s no guarantee that there are only two. “Hold on, Silver One.”

I buckle down, making myself as small as possible and lying across the saddle to minimize air resistance as Tairn moves at a pace I’ve never experienced. It takes all my effort to breathe, to fight the night at the edge of my vision, to just stay conscious as he bolts out of the clouds, then plummets back into the cover a breath later.

“They followed.”

“Great.” My fucking teeth are rattling. “How is that cloud cover?

Because I can’t wield if I’m passed out.” “They are almost clear.”

I grit my teeth and ignore the throbbing ache of my shoulder. The clouds have to clear the path, or there’s every chance I’ll kill Ridoc and Brennan if they’re still on the trail.

“We’re rolling,” he warns me a second before he does so, executing a move that disorients me thoroughly, a move most riders can’t hold their seat for.

My stomach lurches into my lungs as he levels out, flying back the opposite way and dropping us directly under the wyvern. “I know we’re not supposed to question dragons—”

“Then don’t.”

A set of pointed gray claws falls rapidly toward us. “Tairn!”

He banks hard right, then climbs quickly. “The clouds have cleared the trail.”

My heart speeds to a gallop. “Make sure they’re following us.”

“Don’t turn around, or you might actually pass out,” he instructs, flying faster.

I slide my hand out of my jacket with a wince, then gasp with pain as I rotate my palms downward and open myself to Tairn’s power. It flows

through me, filling my muscles, my veins, the very marrow of my bones until I am power and power is me. My skin starts to hum, then sizzle.

We break through the clouds, and I throw my arms wide, pushing past the pain and screaming with it all in the same breath, setting the molten energy within me free, and for the first time in my life, I force the power downward.

Energy erupts through me, searing my skin on the way out as lightning strikes within the cloud below us, webbing out like the many branches of an overgrown briar patch, twisting and turning, drawn to the energy harnessed within the wyvern.

Four distinct shapes light up beneath us, two directly under and two closer to the edge of the cliff, flashing brightly with the endless stream of power.

“Break free!” Tairn demands.

I force my palms shut and shove the Archives door in my mind closed, blocking the endless torrent of Tairn’s power before I end up in the same condition I’d been in at Basgiath under Carr and Varrish’s punishment.

The flashing stops.

“Go!” I shout down the bond, clutching my right arm with my left as Tairn banks deeply to the left and dives for the ground.

This time, the wind is a welcome reprieve from the heat of my skin and the burn within my lungs as we pass through the cloud and emerge on the other side.

Four wyvern carcasses litter the ground, one in the middle of the very field we’d stood in this morning. Tairn flies over each just long enough to be sure that they are, in fact, riderless, and we’re joined by four others in the riot on one last sweep of the area.

Then we climb again, soaring through the clouds and coming out at the edge of the cliff, where everyone has gathered. Some gryphons load into heavy wagons with stumbling steps while others appear to have lost consciousness on the ground, but the fliers are all standing, as are the squads of riders.

Tairn quickly locates ours, and riders scurry as he drops to an abrupt landing.

“You could have crushed someone,” I lecture.

“Could have, but alas, they moved.”

I spot Rhiannon and Sawyer with Ridoc braced between them, walking him toward Aotrom, and breathe a sigh of relief.

“What? You thought I’d let your friend die?” Brennan asks, folding his arms and tilting his head up at me from where he stands next to Bodhi and Dain to the right of Tairn’s foreleg.

“Never doubted you for a second.” I force a smile.

“Want to get your ass down here and let me mend that shoulder?” He wields the older brother disapproving stare like the professional he is.

“Not particularly.” I grimace and haul Dain’s belt back into position, refusing to take the chance that I won’t be able to mount again if a mending session knocks me out.

“So fucking stubborn,” Brennan mutters, shoving his hands through his hair. “How did you know you could kill them like that?”

“I didn’t.” I breathe through the wave of pain that threatens to pull me under as I let the weight of my shoulder fall into the makeshift sling. “Wyvern are created with dark wielder magic, and Felix said something to me about energy fields the other day. I took a chance that the lightning would be drawn to their magic, and Tairn agreed to try.”

Brennan’s jaw drops slightly and Dain bites back an uncharacteristic smile, reminding me of the years when he cared more about climbing trees than our curfew.

“Chance panned out,” Bodhi says, flat-out grinning.

“It did.” I nod. “Aren’t you going to tell me how brilliant that idea was?”

Tairn scoffs. “I chose you last year for that brilliance, and now you’d like to be congratulated like it’s something new? How odd.”

“You’re impossible to impress.”

“I’m a dragon, a Black Morningstartail. The descendent of—”

“Yeah, yeah.” I cut him off before he makes me recite his entire lineage.

“Cath said there were four of them in there.” Dain deftly changes the subject. “At least they were riderless. Could you imagine if dark wielders knew we were joining forces with fliers and moving them into Tyrrendor? Where a dragon just hatched? They’d see us as a ripe little draining target.”

Bodhi’s face falls.

Oh shit. “That’s why you were worried.”

“There’s no telling who is within a four-hour flight.” Tairn bites out those last words.

“They already know.” My stomach twists. “That’s why they’re using riderless wyverns to patrol.”

Brennan stills completely, and the color drains from his face. “What?” Dain glances between us.

“Venin share a collective conscious with the wyvern they create,” Brennan says quietly. “That’s what Tecarus’s book says.”

“The book you haven’t let me read in the four days you’ve had it?” I touch my fingertips to my head as the dizziness returns.

“It’s only been three days, and you apparently already know,” Brennan counters. “And some things are beyond your clearance, cadet, especially information we haven’t finished analyzing.”

“I know because I read the book my father gave me,” I argue, and I almost regret the emphasis when he flinches. He didn’t just separate himself from Mom when he changed his name—he distanced himself from Dad. “And Bodhi knows because it’s how I killed an entire horde of them at Resson.”

“I didn’t know,” Dain interrupts. “So if one of them felt that energy pulse… If one of them knows what it means…”

“Whoever created them knows,” I finish for him, turning my gaze to Brennan. “And you can bet they’ll come for us now.”

You'll Also Like