Chapter no 45

Iron Flame (The Empyrean Book 2)

“Coralee Ryle. Nicholai Panya,” a newly pinned Major Devera calls out over the frost-covered courtyard, reading from what’s become

the new death roll. For the first time since entering the quadrant, the names called every morning for the last week haven’t been cadets, but active riders

—and fliers—on the front lines, fighting to fortify the villages along the Stonewater River. Trying to divert the venin’s attention from our valley, where four new dragons have hatched.

Don’t say Mira. Don’t say Mira. Don’t say Mira. It’s become my personal prayer to whatever god will listen while standing in formation.

I feel so fucking useless. Unlike the last two weeks, there’s no luminary to fetch, no wards to fail at. There’s a real war down there, and we’re up here learning history and physics.

“We lost two yesterday?” Aaric tenses in the row ahead.

Rhiannon glances back over her shoulder at me, sorrow haunting her eyes for a heartbeat before she composes herself with a grace I can never seem to manage and straightens her shoulders at Sawyer’s side. Two riders in one day is unfathomable in active service. The entirety of the Aretian Quadrant will be dead in less than two months at this rate.

“I think that’s Isar’s brother,” Ridoc says from beside me. “Second Wing.”

We both glance left, past Third Wing. Isar Panya bows her head from the middle of her squad in Tail Section.

I blink back the burning in my eyes, and my fingers squeeze tight around the conduit in my left hand.

“He was a lieutenant,” Imogen says quietly.

“Two years ahead of us,” Quinn adds. “Great sense of humor.”

“This is cruel,” I whisper. “Telling us that our siblings, our friends are dead this way is fucking cruel.” It’s harsher than anything we’ve been put through at Basgiath.

“It’s no different than morning formation,” Visia says over her shoulder. “Yes, it is,” Sloane argues. “Hearing someone from a different wing

died, or hell, even our squad, isn’t the same as being told your brother’s gone.” Her voice cracks.

A lump swells painfully in my throat. Brennan is inside, no doubt arguing with the Assembly about where to find game for the tsunami of predators we’ve brought here over the last month or coordinating shipments from the now-functioning forge. He’s safe.

Every commissioned rider that isn’t here teaching has been sent in shifts to man the outposts along the Cliffs of Dralor, like Xaden, Garrick, Heaton, and Emery…or to hold the front, like Mira.

Devera clears her throat and exchanges the roll for the one Jesinia holds.

My shoulders dip, a breath of relief clouding the freezing air. Mira’s alive. Or at least she was last night when the rotational rider brought the news in. Morning formation doesn’t scare me when it comes to Xaden—I’d know instantly if he…

Gods, I can’t even think it.

“Chrissa Verlin,” Devera begins reading from the commissioned fliers’ roll. “Mika Renfrew—”

“Mika!” A low, guttural scream erupts from our right, and every head turns to a drift near the center of the fliers’ formation as a guy falls to his knees. The rest of his drift turns, covering him with comforting arms.

“I’m never going to get used to hearing them do that,” Aaric mutters, shifting his weight.

“Hearing them what?” Sloane counters. “Have emotions?”

“Sorrengail knows what I mean. You’ve been out there—” Aaric says to me.

“And I cried like an infant while Liam died. Turn around.” Shit, isn’t that at odds with everything I told Rhiannon when we fought beside the Gauntlet? The deaths are supposed to harden us, so why do I agree with Sloane on this one? There’s something infinitely more…human about the way the fliers react.

Even the way they conduct their own Threshing at Cliffsbane is considerably less cruel than what we endure at Basgiath. Now I can’t decide if it makes us stronger…or simply harder.

“— and Alvar Gilana,” Devara concludes. “We commend their souls to Malek.”

I glance right—just like I do every morning—and see Cat’s posture soften, her eyes close briefly from her drift on the closest edge of their formation. Syrena is still alive, too.

She looks over at me and I nod, which she returns, even if it’s curt. It’s our one daily moment of truce, the only time we seem to recognize each other as little sisters instead of enemies, and it’s over in less than a heartbeat.

Her gaze shifts into a glare as formation breaks.

Swear to Amari, Cat’s hell-bent on making my life as miserable as fucking possible every other minute of the day and tries twice as hard on the days Xaden is here. Her loathing makes Sloane look downright warm and fuzzy—and worse, her entire drift seems focused on our squad, with five of the remaining six—Maren being the exception—blaming me for Luella’s death and loudly proclaiming that I chose the rider over the flier.

The tall guy with shoulder-length brown hair—pretty sure his name is Trager—swung for Ridoc on the valley’s flight field two days ago and ended up with Rhiannon’s fist in his face when he ran his mouth about her particular border village turning away refugees. His lip is still scabbed. Guess our little hike up the cliffs didn’t bond us like they’d hoped.

“What did she do this morning?” Rhiannon asks, looking Cat’s direction with a raised brow.

“Knocked on my door before dawn, then got all annoyed when I actually answered the damned thing.” Just the thought of it has my hand warming along the conduit. Felix has replaced the alloy in my conduit twice this week, but at least my inability to control my own power is helping imbue alloy for daggers, so in a way, I’m helping the war effort, since my attempt at activating the wardstone failed. I roll my right shoulder, hoping to ease the ache now that I’ve ditched the sling, but it still protests.

“Is she running out of bullshit to pull on you?” Ridoc asks as we start to move toward the door. It takes twice as long to get out of formation here than at Basgiath, considering Riorson House was built for keeping people out, not letting them in. “That doesn’t sound as bad as Saturday, when she posted that list of all the fliers Mira has taken out over the years.”

That day had been a treat and definitely soothed relations between riders and fliers. We’d had at least a dozen more fights than usual break out in the hallways.

“She was wearing a Deverelli silk robe when I answered the door.” I grab my pack from the ground and swing it over my shoulders, grimacing at the weight. “How do I know it was Deverelli silk, you ask? Because it was pretty much see-through.”

“Oh, damn!” Sawyer cringes. “Why would she… Are you…”

Rhiannon, Quinn, and even Imogen stare at him as the first-years head inside.

“Think about where she sleeps!” Ridoc smacks the back of Sawyer’s head.

“Ow! Right. You’re still in Riorson’s room,” Sawyer says slowly, blatantly turning his back on Cat as she walks by with her drift. “I forgot. Roll has you listed in Rhiannon’s room.”

Bringing an extra hundred cadets here meant doubling up, and technically, I shouldn’t be sleeping in a lieutenant’s room—not that either of us care or leadership is going to say anything to the man who owns the house.

“Which I appreciate.” Rhiannon rests her hand over her heart. “As it gives me a little privacy for whenever Tara and I actually get time to see each other.”

“Happy to help.” I crack a smile.

“Have to give it to the girl.” Imogen shakes her head, sighing as she looks past me toward Cat and her drift. “She’s tenacious.”

Every head swivels in her direction.

“Hey.” Imogen puts her hands up. “I’m Team Violet. Just saying that I bet if Xaden ever called it quits, you’d fight to get him back, too.”

Ugh. When she puts it that way…

“Do not humanize that walking piece of terror,” Rhiannon counters. “I climbed the entire cliff with her, and I’m starting to think we’d be better off having Jack Barlowe up here instead.”

He’s one person I’m glad stayed behind, no matter how nice he’d been to me. I still don’t trust that guy. Never will.

“Is Cat being…Cat again?” Bodhi asks, walking over as the courtyard empties.

“It’s fine. She’s fine. I’m fine.” I shake my head, lying through my teeth so he doesn’t tell Xaden that I can’t handle myself. “Rhiannon and I have somewhere to be.”

“We do?” Rhi’s eyebrows rise. “We do.”

“Right.” He turns to Rhiannon. “Well, Professor Trissa just chose your second-years for a new class. Tomorrow at two in the valley.”

Trissa? She’s the petite, quiet member of the Assembly. “We’ll be there,” Rhi promises.

now falls in Aretia earlier than it does at Basgiath, and by the first week in November, a thin blanket of white covers the rapidly growing town but not

S the valley above, thanks to a combination of the natural thermal heat of the mountain range and the magic channeled by gryphon and dragon alike, which only seems to be increasing.

I glance toward the worn path at the end of the valley that leads down to Riorson House, anxiety churning in my stomach.

“This is awkward.” Sawyer folds his arms and levels a bored look across the fifteen feet of valley grass that separate the second-year riders in our squad from the second-year fliers in Cat’s drift.

Looks like we’ve both been summoned.

But if the line of dragons standing behind us and the gryphons behind the fliers can manage not to attack each other, surely we can be civil.


“Civil is overrated,” Andarna notes, flexing her claws in the grass. “I’ve never tasted gryphon—”

“We do not eat our allies,” Tairn lectures. “Find another snack.”

Looking right, I catch Sawyer glancing between Andarna and Tairn over and over, like he’s comparing the differences. “Don’t worry, I feel like I see double all the time.”

“It’s not that. Did she grow again?” he asks, pulling at his collar. “I feel like she grew.”

“I think a few inches this week.” I nod. “We had to add a link to her harness on each side.”

“Soon I’ll be able to fly without it,” Andarna notes with a huff.

Ridoc pivots to make his own observations, smiling up at Andarna. “The little Mini-Tairn is becoming ferocious, isn’t she—”

“I am no one’s miniature.” Andarna’s head darts toward him, and she snaps her teeth less than a foot in front of his face.

My heart bolts. “Andarna!” I shout, turning quickly to put myself between her and Ridoc as she withdraws.

“Damn!” Ridoc throws his hands up, his hair blowing back from the force of what can only be described as the frustrated huff of Tairn’s…sigh. “Big,” Ridoc blurts. “Meant to say big.”

“No more spending time with Sgaeyl.” I point at her, stopping short of tapping her chin before looking up at Tairn, who’s lowered his head over her like he might actually put her between his teeth and yank her off the field like a puppy. “I mean it. She’s rubbing off on you.”

“I could only be so lucky.” Andarna lifts her head, preening, and Tairn grumbles something in his own language.

“Holy shit,” Maren mutters from behind me.

“Sorry about that. Adolescents.” I shrug at Ridoc.

“Still can’t believe feathertails are kids,” Sawyer says, taking a step away from Andarna. “Or that you bonded two black dragons.”

“That one caught me off guard, too.”

I glance toward the path again, but there’s no sign of Rhiannon. If Professor Trissa gets here before Rhi, she’ll be in major trouble. Trissa might be the softest-spoken member of the Assembly, but she’s also the sharpest-tongued when pissed, according to what Xaden told me before he flew out for the border again this morning with Heaton and Emery. At least we’d had a night together.

The third-years went, too, patrolling the Cliffs of Dralor for wyvern and Navarrian riders.

Wyvern we wouldn’t have to worry about if I hadn’t failed to raise the wards.

“Which part’s worse?” Ridoc muses, tapping the dimple in his chin. “Them silently glaring at us like we have any fucking clue why they’re up here, too? Or their menacing escorts?” His gaze locks on the gryphons standing guard over their fliers.

Dajalair wobbles slightly, still clearly not adjusted to the altitude. I have yet to see a single gryphon fly in the week that they’ve been here.

“Both.” Sawyer unbuttons his flight jacket. “Is it me or is it getting hotter up here?”

“Hotter,” I agree, breathing a sigh of relief when Rhiannon appears, flashing me an excited smile as she hikes toward us from the other side of the field. I add to Ridoc, “And be nice. I like Maren.”

“I like Maren, too—but her best friend needs to get tossed off this cliff,” Sawyer notes under his breath.

“The gryphons are up and about faster than I thought,” Ridoc observes. “Most of them were still sleeping off the altitude a few days ago.”

The gryphon standing behind Trager, the guy with the shoulder-length brown hair and crooked smile—notices Ridoc’s appraisal, and snaps his sharp, two-foot beak in warning.

Trager smirks.

Aotrom blows a hot gust of steam over our heads, blasting all three fliers in the face with not just steam but a healthy layer of…is that snot?

“In their defense, we brought our own escorts,” I note as Andarna stalks forward, her claws sinking into the grass on either side of me in clear warning. Her talons grow sharper by the day, and she fully extended her wing for the first time this morning, making her extra bold this afternoon.

“Elders say I’ll be flying within a few weeks.” A growl aimed at the gryphon works up her throat, and his beady eyes flare, then blink.

“You’re baring your teeth, aren’t you?” I don’t bother hiding my smile.

“I don’t trust them,” she answers. “Especially the one in the center who looks to be plotting your death.”

“Don’t let her bother you.”

Cat’s eyes are indeed narrowed on me as usual.

“She bothers you.” Andarna takes a single step forward, putting her chest scales just over my head.

“And she’ll get used to it, or she’ll kill her,” Tairn answers from behind us where the other three—no, four—dragons wait now that Feirge has arrived. “Either is acceptable.”

“I thought you were against us killing allies?” I glance over my shoulder as his shade envelops me thanks to the afternoon sun. Maybe it’s Sliseag moving closer on her right, but there’s a reddish sheen to Andarna’s scales, and I can’t help but wonder when that shimmer will dull to a shade more like Tairn.

“She has yet to prove herself an ally,” Tairn notes.

“She still blames me for Luella’s death.”

“Hey, while we’re just standing here…” Sawyer rubs the back of his neck, and his cheeks redden. “I…”

“You…?” I lift my eyebrows at the clearly unfinished question.

“I was wondering if you…” He cringes, then sighs. “Never mind.”

“He wants you to teach him how to sign,” Ridoc finishes, rocking back on his heels in clear boredom.

“Ridoc!” Sawyer glares his way.

“What? You made that way more painful than it had to be. For fuck’s sake, it was like you were leading up to asking her out or something.” He visibly shudders.

“What if he had been?” I counter.

“Then I’d be stuck cleaning little pieces of him off our shared floor when Riorson ripped him to shreds.” Ridoc shakes his head. “So messy.”

“First, Xaden has more than enough confidence to survive me being asked out.” I glance up at Sawyer. “And yes, I’ll teach you to sign. Why would that be embarrassing?”

“I should have learned years ago.” Sawyer drops his hand. “And… obvious reasons.”

“I’m not fluent enough to make a good teacher, apparently.” Ridoc rolls his eyes.

“You’d teach me the sign for sex and tell me it was hello, just to see what happened when I used it,” Sawyer fires back.

“What? I’m not a total dick.” A smile curves Ridoc’s mouth. “I would have waited until you asked about the word for dinner—that way, when you asked her if she wanted to grab a bite with you—”

“Oh!” I blink, putting the pieces together. Jesinia. “Don’t worry, Sawyer.

I’ve got you. Rhi signs fluently, too. So do Aaric and Quinn, and—” “Everyone but me.” Sawyer sighs, his shoulders dipping.

“Almost didn’t make it in time,” Rhiannon says, slightly out of breath as she reaches us.

Trager’s eyes narrow even further on Rhi as Professor Trissa rounds the corner behind her.

“How’s the lip?” Rhiannon asks, winking at Trager.

He moves to step forward, but Maren blocks him, shaking her head.

“I would have covered for you. Did you get your family settled?” I ask Rhi.

They’d arrived late last night, travel-weary and with only the items they could fit in a narrow wagon capable of making it up the Precipice Pass, the winding trading route up the northeast side of the Cliffs of Dralor, bordering the Deaconshire province.

“Yeah.” Rhi grins and drops her pack in the surprisingly supple grass next to mine. I swear, it’s like the seasons are reversing up in this valley. “Thank your brother for me. He assigned their houses right next to each other near the market square, and they’ve already picked out a spot to set up shop.”

“Will do. And Lukas?” Just the thought of her nephew’s perfect, chubby cheeks has me smiling wide.

“Still the cutest boy ever.” She unbuttons her flight jacket and shrugs it off her shoulders. “They’re exhausted, but they’re safe. And the fact that I get to see them whenever I want now? Amazing. Plus, I got to show off my signet, and they were appropriately awed.”

“That’s phenomenal. I’m really happy for you.” My posture relaxes, and I take a truly deep breath. Families have been arriving in Aretia for the last week, led in small, unnoticeable groups by the members of the revolution who delivered their offers of sanctuary. Ridoc’s dad should arrive any day, but we haven’t had word from Sawyer’s parents yet.

“You might be wondering why we’re meeting in the valley,” Professor Trissa says, her breaths perfectly even as she reaches into her pack and pulls out seven printed illustrations, then hands them out to the seven of us.

Another smile tugs at my lips. Jesinia and the others got the printing press up and running.

The illustration’s a depiction of a Tyrrish rune, not unlike those in the weaving book Xaden left me when he graduated. After a closer look at the illustration, I recognize it. The series of graduated squares is nearly identical to the hilt of the dagger on my right hip.

“As you are currently the top squad and drift, we have chosen your group as our…test of sorts.” Professor Trissa steps back so she can see both lines of us. “You can channel?” she asks the fliers.

“About half power since yesterday morning,” Cat answers. “Mindwork?” the professor asks with a tone of curiosity.

“Not yet,” Maren answers.

“But soon,” Cat says, staring straight at me. “The drifts are getting stronger every day.”

As if I’d forget what it was like to have her running amok in my head. “So, back to arts-and-crafts hour?” Ridoc asks, folding his arms.

“Who knows how mage lights are powered?” Professor Trissa asks, ignoring his question and reaching into her pack. She removes eight small wooden boards, no bigger than a plate. She puts them in the center of our little stand-off. “Well?”

“Lesser magic,” Maren answers.

“The ones you create yourself.” Professor Trissa nods. “What about the ones that run continuously in, say, the first-year dorms. The ones that work before you can channel?”

Every rider looks at me.

“They’re powered by the excess magic both we and our dragons channel,” I answer. “It comes off us naturally, like…waves of body heat, but it’s such a small amount that we don’t even notice it.”

“Exactly,” the professor agrees. “And what is it that makes that kind of magic possible? Magic tied to objects instead of a wielder?” She looks us over with expectant, dark-brown eyes, then rubs the bridge of her nose. “Gods, I thought Felix was joking. Sorrengail, you’re practically covered in them.”

I glance down, glimpsing the shimmer of my dragon-scale armor beneath the V-neck of my uniform top, then lock onto the daggers Xaden gave me. “Runes?”

“Runes,” Professor Trissa confirms. “Runes aren’t just decorative. They’re strands of magic pulled from our power, woven into geometric

patterns for specific uses, then placed into an object, either for immediate work or usage at a later date. We call the process ‘tempering.’”

“That’s not possible.” Maren shakes her head. “Magic is only wielded.” “It’s still wielded.” Professor Trissa all but sighs in disappointment at

our ignorance. “But just like we store food for winter, a wielder can temper a rune using as much or as little power as they choose, then place it into something.” She bends down and picks up one of the boards and waves it in our general directions. “Like wood, or metal, or whatever object the wielder chooses. That rune will activate when triggered and perform whatever action it was tempered for. Unlike alloy, which houses power, runes are tempered with power for specific actions.”

Rhi and I exchange a confused glance.

“I see we’ll need some convincing.” Professor Trissa drops the board and lifts her hands. “First you separate a strand of your power.” She reaches forward and pinches air between her thumb and forefinger. “Which can be the most complicated step to learn, honestly.”

“Is she pretending?” Ridoc whispers.

Professor Trissa shoots him a sharp-eyed glare. “Just because you can’t see my power doesn’t mean I can’t. Or are you unfamiliar with the process of grounding? Like your shields, your power is only visible to you when you give it form, whether it’s the shape of your signet as a rider, or lesser magics, which you are all capable of.”

“Point taken.” Ridoc puts his empty hand up in defeat.

“Power can be shaped.” Her hands move quickly, pulling at pieces of air, then using her fingers to form invisible shapes. Circles? Squares? Was that a triangle? It’s hard to tell when we can’t see. “Every shape has meaning. The points where we tie the power change that meaning. All of which you will need to memorize.” She reaches into the air again, then creates…a rhombus? “The shapes we combine layer the meanings, changing the rune. Will it activate immediately? Sit in suspended state? How many times can it activate before the rune depletes? It’s all decided here.” She seems to flip whatever she’s working on, then pulls another string and does…something.

“Fucking weird,” Ridoc mumbles under his breath. “It’s like when you’re little and you ask your parents to drink from the teacup, knowing there’s no actual tea in it.”

Rhiannon shushes him.

“Once it’s ready”—Professor Trissa bends and grabs the board, then stands— “we place the rune. Until it’s placed, it has no meaning, no purpose, and will fade quickly. It’s tempering the rune that makes it an active magic.” She grabs what I assume is the rune she’s been tempering with her right hand, then pushes her palm into the wooden board. “This particular one is a simple heating rune.”

“That was simple?” Sawyer asks.

The board smokes, and I lean forward, my eyes widening.

“And there you have it.” She turns the front of the board toward the fliers, then shows us. “Once you understand which shapes combine to make what symbols, the combinations are nearly limitless.”

My jaw hangs open for a moment. The shapes have been burned into what I would have said was a decorative rune about ten minutes ago. I glance down at the illustration in my hands and wonder what the hell the dagger on my hip is supposed to do.

Every shape has meaning. The points where we tie the power change that meaning. I take another look at the multifaceted shape before she flips the board, holding it to face skyward, and my eyes widen with realization.

“It’s a logosyllabic language,” I blurt. “Like Old Lucerish or Morrainian.”

Professor Trissa lifts her eyebrows as she looks my way. “Very similar, yes.” Her mouth curves into a smile. “That’s right, you can read Old Lucerish, too.” She nods. “Impressive.”

“Thank you.”

“She’s ours,” Ridoc says to the fliers, pointing at me.

Not sure I’m anything to brag about, considering I barely passed the history quiz this morning. At least I’m solid in math, but then again, math doesn’t change overnight.

“You’re an ice wielder, are you not?” Professor Trissa asks Ridoc.

He nods, and she holds out her hand.

Ridoc uncorks the skin strapped at his hip, then draws the water out from the mouthpeice in a frozen cylinder before walking it to Professor Trissa.

She places the ice on the board, and my gasp isn’t the only one heard as the ice dissolves in a matter of seconds and water drips from the sizzling wood. “Be careful of the medium you choose to hold the rune. A bit more power and that board would have gone up in flames.”

“Why does no one teach this?” Maren asks, glancing from her parchment to the board.

“It’s a skill the Tyrrish once controlled and perfected, but it was banned a couple hundred years after the unification of Navarre, even though many of our outposts and Basgiath itself were built upon them. Why?” She lifts her brows. “I’m so glad you asked. You see, riders are naturally more powerful, given the amount of magic we channel and the signets we wield.”

Trager rolls his eyes.

“But runes are the great equalizer,” Professor Trissa continues, setting the board on the grass now that it’s stopped sizzling. “A rune is only limited to how much power you choose to temper, how long you want it to last, and how many uses it has before it depletes. They banned runes so they wouldn’t fall into the wrong hands.” She glances at the fliers. “Your hands, specifically. Get good enough at runes, and you can compete with a fair amount of signets.”

“So, you want us to…temper this?” Cat asks, studying the illustration with an arched eyebrow. “Out of…magic?”

I hate to admit it, but I’m with Cat on this one—and by the looks on the faces around me, we all are. Even Rhi is glancing at the drawing with trepidation. This feels…overwhelming.

“Yes. With the power you’ll learn to separate from yourselves, just like I showed you.” Professor Trissa opens her pack and dumps another pile of boards onto the first.

She made it look so easy.

“We’re going to start with a simple unlocking rune. Easy to build, easy to test.” She glances between our lines.

“We can all unlock doors with lesser magic,” Trager notes.

“Of course you can.” Professor Trissa sighs. “But an unlocking rune can be used by someone who doesn’t possess lesser magic. Now let’s go. I expect your first runes woven before sunset.”

“There’s no way we’re going to learn how to do that before sunset,” Sawyer argues.

“Nonsense. Every marked one has learned a simple unlocking rune the first day.”

“No pressure,” Rhi mutters.

“Sloane and Imogen can do this?” I ask.

“Naturally.” Professor Trissa shakes her head at me.

This is why Xaden had me practicing runes with fabric. Is that man ever going to learn to just tell me things outright? Or am I always going to have to dig information out of him? “‘I’ll answer any question you ask,’” I mock under my breath. It’s hard to ask questions I don’t even know exist.

“You’re supposed to be the best of your year, so stop gawking and get to work,” Professor Trissa lectures. “The first thing you’ll need to do is learn to separate a piece of your own power. Let it fill your mind, then reach in and visualize plucking a thread of it from the current.”

Rhiannon, Sawyer, Ridoc, and I exchange a series of what-the-fuck glances that are echoed by the fliers across from us.

“Advice?” I ask Tairn and Andarna.

“Don’t blow anything up.” Tairn shifts his weight behind me.

“At least blowing something up would be interesting,” Andarna notes, eliciting a growl from Tairn.

“Now,” Trissa demands, then holds up a finger. “Oh, and be careful. Power gets temperamental when you pull from it. That’s why your bondeds are here. The closer the source, the easier it is for the first time.” She looks us over, then folds her arms across her chest. “Well, what are you waiting for?”

I shut my eyes and envision my Archives and the swirling power that surrounds it. The blazing, molten stream of Tairn’s power that flows behind his giant door looks capable of consuming me, but the pearlescent flow of Andarna’s power just beyond the windows feels…approachable.

Steadying my breath, I reach for Andarna’s power—

Boom. An explosion sounds, and my eyes fly open, every head whipping toward Sawyer as he flies backward. He lands just short of Sliseag’s claws, a scorch mark left smoking in the grass where he’d been standing.

“And that is why we’re having this class outdoors.” Professor Trissa shakes her head. “On your feet. Try again.”

Ridoc walks back and helps Sawyer to his feet, and then we do just that. Try again. And again. And again.

Before sunset, I manage to weave an unlocking rune, but I’m not the first.

Cat has that honor and, unlike the rest of us, no scorch marks beneath her feet.

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