Chapter no 50

Iron Flame (The Empyrean Book 2)

“Better.” A week later, Felix pops a grape into his mouth, then motions to the stacked rocks and the tendrils of steam at the base that only

last a second before they’re whisked away by the wind and snow. “You almost hit it that time.”

I clench the energy-warmed conduit in my hand. “I did hit it.” I sway on my feet and shake off my exhaustion. Too many late nights have been spent translating Warrick’s journal from the beginning, too many lunches have been eaten in that cold wardstone chamber, and I’ve definitely spent too much time with Dain.

I’d almost forgotten how good he really is with languages, how quickly he catches on.

“No.” Felix shakes his head, then plucks another grape from the bunch. How are those things not frozen? The ground has accumulated about six inches of snow in the hour we’ve been out here. “If you’d hit it, the rocks wouldn’t be there anymore.”

“You said to use less power, remember? Smaller strikes. More control.” I shake the orb in his direction. “What would you call that?”

“Missing the target.”

Snowflakes sizzle into steam as they land on the bare skin of my hands, and it’s all I can do to not glare at the professor.

“Here.” He shoves the bunch of grapes into the pack at his feet, then reaches for the orb, plucking it from my hand. “Strike the conduit.”

“I’m sorry?” My eyes bulge as I swat a loose tendril of hair from my face.

“Strike the conduit,” he says like it’s the simplest task, holding the metal-and-glass orb only inches away from my fingers.

“I’d kill you.”

“If only you could aim,” he teases, his smile flashing white. “You clearly understand how energy and attraction work, as evidenced by how you took those wyvern out, right?”

“I struck into the cloud.” My brow crinkles. “I think. I can’t really explain it. I just knew that lightning can exist within a cloud, and when I wielded, it was there.”

Felix nods. “It’s about the energy fields. It’s quite similar to magic that way. And you”—he touches my hand with the orb—“are the greatest energy field of all. Summon your power, but instead of letting the conduit have it all, cut it off yourself.”

I shift my weight and swallow hard, fighting the tide of fire that lifts the hairs on my arm. Imagining the Archives doors shutting all but the last few inches, I allow only a fraction of Tairn’s power to reach my hands.

My fingertips graze the metal of the orb, and it crackles with the familiar sight of whitish blue tendrils of pure energy branching from my fingertips against the glass and gathering into a single, delicate stream at the alloy medallion in the center of the conduit. Unlike the shimmering strands I pull from Andarna’s power to temper runes, this is physical, like a tiny, sustained lightning strike. A smile tugs at the corners of my mouth as I let the power flow from me into the conduit just like I do every night, imbuing stone after stone now that I know how to change them out once they’re fully imbued. “I love watching it do that.”

It’s the only time my power is beauty without destruction—without violence.

“You’re not watching it, Violet. You’re doing it. And you’re supposed to love it. It’s better to find joy in your power than it is to fear it.”

“I don’t fear the power.” How could I when it’s so beautiful? So varied?

I’m afraid of myself.

“You shouldn’t be,” Tairn lectures. He’s been commenting off and on the last hour—whenever he hasn’t been trying to get Andarna to stop chasing the two new flocks of sheep Brennan had moved into the valley. “I chose you, and dragons make no mistakes.”

“What’s it like to go through life so self-assured?” “It’s…life.”

I manage not to roll my eyes by keeping all my focus on limiting Tairn’s power.

“Good. Keep going. Let it flow, but think trickle, not flood.” Felix slowly draws the conduit away. “Don’t stop.”

Every muscle in my body tenses, but I do as he asks and don’t cut the stream of power. Tendrils of that same white-blue energy stretch the inch of airspace between my fingers and the orb.

“What…” My heart starts to pound so hard I can feel it in my ears, and the five separate filaments of power pulse in time with its beat.

“That’s you,” Felix says softly, gentler than he’s ever been with me as he draws the orb away another inch, then another. Then again, I’d be careful with me right now, too, if I were him. “Increase slowly.”

The doors to my Archives open just another foot or so, and the power stretches with no pain and only moderate heat, evaporating any unlucky snowflakes in its path.

“You’re starting to get it now, aren’t you?” Felix retreats a full step, and my hand begins to tremble as I fight to amplify the power just enough to reach the conduit but not strike.

“Get. What?” My arm is full-on shaking now.

“Control.” He grins, and I startle, my gaze swinging back to his.

Power bursts through the doorway and rips through me in a streak of scalding heat, and I throw my hands up—and away from Felix—a second before the strike splits the clouded sky, singeing the mountain on impact less than thirty feet up the ridge.

Felix’s Red Swordtail puffs steam in agitation, but all I feel from Tairn is pride.

“Well, you had control.” Felix hands the conduit back to me. “But at least that means you’re capable. For a while there, I wasn’t sure.”

“I wasn’t, either.” I study the orb as if I’ve never seen it.

“You wield your power like a battle-ax, and sometimes that’s exactly what’s needed. But you of all people”—he gestures to the daggers sheathed in my flight jacket—“should understand when a dagger is called for, when only the precise cut will do.” He lifts his pack from the ground and slings it over his shoulder. “We’re done for today. By Monday you’ll be able to keep that power flowing from—shall we say ten feet?”

“Ten feet?” There’s no fucking way.

“You’re right.” He nods, turning toward his antsy dragon. “Make it fifteen.” His head tilts to the side, and he pauses as if he’s talking to his dragon. “When you get back to the house, tell Riorson we’ll need both of you in the Assembly chamber at five o’clock.”

“But Xaden isn’t—” I lower my shields and sure enough, there he is. The shadowy pathway between our minds is strong with proximity and heavy with… weariness?

“You’re home early. Everything all right?”

“No.” He doesn’t give any details, and his tone doesn’t invite further questions.

“Is Sgaeyl all right?” I ask Tairn as I walk up the forearm he’s dipped for me.

“She’s unharmed.” Frustration and anger simmer, then quickly scald our bond, and I swiftly shield him out to keep from losing control over my own emotions.

A half hour later, after flying back to the valley and watching Andarna show off her developing ability to extend her wing while counting to thirty with enthusiastic applause, I walk into the chaotic halls of Riorson House and head straight for the kitchen.

Once I have a plate of what I need, I start up the sweeping staircase and find Garrick, Bodhi, and Heaton talking on the second-floor landing. The

look on Garrick’s soot-covered face matches the ominous weight of Xaden’s mood, and when Heaton turns their head, I nearly fumble the plate.

The right side of their face is one giant contusion, and their right arm is splinted from the elbow down.

“What happened?”

Garrick and Bodhi exchange a glance that makes my stomach sink, even knowing that Xaden is alive—and not in our bedroom on this floor, but four stories above me.

“They took Pavis,” Heaton tells me quietly, looking to see that we’re not overheard.

I blink. That can’t be right. “That town is only an hour’s flight east of Draithus.”

Heaton nods slowly. “Took seven of them and a hoard of wyvern. Town was overrun before we even got there. Your sister—she’s all right, just taking Emery to the healers for a shattered leg. She ordered us out after—” Their voice breaks, and they look away.

“After Nyra Voldaren fell during our mission today,” Garrick finishes.

“Nyra?” She was the quadrant’s senior wingleader last year and was damn near invincible.

“Yeah. She went in to defend a group of civilians that had taken shelter near the armory, and…” His jaw works. “And there was nothing left of her or Malla. It was just like Soleil and Fuil, completely drained. I’m sure they’ll update everyone in Battle Brief tomorrow, but they recalled all first and second lieutenants to Aretia to regroup.”

“I think they’re going to change the wing structure,” Heaton adds.

“They have to,” Garrick agrees. “Leaving the less experienced riders back from the front doesn’t do a damn thing when the front is this fucking fluid.”

“Did they take Cordyn?”

Garrick shakes his head. “Skipped right over it and hundreds of other miles. They targeted Pavis and stayed there.”

“It’s a good staging point”—Bodhi drops his voice when a trio of fliers out of First Wing walk by—“for Draithus. Has to be.”

They’re coming for us.

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