Chapter no 56

Iron Flame (The Empyrean Book 2)

“Dragons,” Brennan says as we skip the path that leads to the wardstone chamber and instead climb the one that leads to the top of

the hill with the other members of the Assembly, Xaden and Rhiannon walking up behind us in the afternoon light.

The wind howls as storm clouds roll in above us. Even the weather holds a sense of urgency, and if I’m wrong? If I missed a symbol? A meaning? We’ll be fighting for our lives in the next few hours. But I can feel the distinct, powerful hum of the wardstone from here, so that must mean I have part of it right.

The time Dain, Xaden, and I have put in imbuing the wardstone has paid off. It’s not creating wards on its own, of course, but it’s at least holding power.

The chaos inside Riorson House bleeds onto the trail that leads to the valley as riders and fliers alike hike for the flight field, armed to the teeth with swords, battle-axes, daggers, and bows. My own daggers are sheathed

—all but the two I left in the cave with Solas’s body—and my pack is strapped to my back. Most third- and second-years are headed to the outposts along the Navarrian border, and then there’s me.

I’ll be with Xaden, since Tairn and Sgaeyl can fly faster than the rest of the riot to confront the approaching horde. The last thing we want is to let them get to Aretia.

If we hurry and the translation is accurate, we might get the wards working just as the horde reaches the height of the cliffs. I try not to focus on what will happen if I’ve translated wrong again, my heart racing in my chest as we hurry up the path.

I glance over my shoulder at Xaden, his jaw clenched, eyes not quite meeting mine. Maybe he and I keep having the same fight because we never get to actually finish it. What in Malek’s name could his signet be if he went that pale?

“Dragons,” I repeat to Brennan, pulling my attention back to my brother and handing the journal over on the page I’d mistranslated originally. “That line?” I point with a gloved finger. “It’s more loosely interpreted as political power, not physical, which would be a lower placement on the symbol. Dain caught that one. The stone needs a representative of each den.” Which is exactly why Rhiannon is trekking up the path behind us with a stone-silent Xaden. We need Feirge. “And it took reading the entire beginning to know that once a dragon fires a wardstone, their fire can’t be used on any other, and reading the entire end to know they created two wardstones. But it doesn’t say why they never activated this one. It’s dragonfire that triggers the imbedded runes, and they obviously had enough dragons, so why wouldn’t they protect more of Navarre if they could?”

My entire body aches from today’s attack, especially my head and shoulders, and I fight to lock the pain away so we can get this done. It won’t matter if I’m hurting if we’re dead in the next few hours. Gently, I probe the swollen knot on the back of my head and wince.

“Let me mend it,” Brennan says, worry creasing his forehead as he looks up from the journal.

“We don’t have time right now. Later.” I shake my head and tug my hood up over my head to ward off the cold.

He shoots me a disapproving look but doesn’t try to talk me out of my choice. “Not only did you translate it, but you went back and did it again when most people would have quit. I’m really impressed, Violet.” His mouth curves into a smile.

“Thanks.” I can’t help but smile back with a little bit of pride. “Dad taught me well, and Markham picked up where he left off.”

“Bet you disappointed the hell out of him when you stayed in the Riders Quadrant.”

“I’m definitely his biggest failure.” Just a few more steps. “But Dad’s biggest success.” He offers the journal back.

“I think he’d be proud of all of us. You should keep that.” I nod at the journal as we finally reach the top. “It needs to be preserved.”

“Any time you want it, it’s yours,” he promises, tucking it into his jacket for safekeeping before heading left toward where Marbh stands next to Cath, his tail flicking as Dain waits in front of him, shifting his weight impatiently.

Six dragons surround the top of the chamber, standing wing to wing, and I make my way to Tairn, who stands beside Sgaeyl, as I would expect.

“How is Andarna?” I ask him, taking my place between his forelegs and peeking over the stone-rimmed edge into the chamber where the wardstone sits a hundred feet below. “She’s not responding when I reach out.”

“She’s been questioned by the elders, and her actions were found justifiable,” he answers. “But to slay another dragon is a heavy mark upon the soul, even when in defense of yourself or your rider.”

“That’s why you only took his eye instead of killing him.” I stiffen as Xaden approaches, refusing to look his way as he moves into position with Sgaeyl.

“I should have ended him then. I will not hesitate when faced with a similar predicament in the future. She now suffers with a burden that should have been mine.”

“I’m proud of her.” “As am I.”

Rhiannon stands with Feirge, and Suri does the same with her Brown Clubtail.

“Let’s get this done.” Suri shoots a glare my way, obviously still angry that I’ve hidden my discovery for the past week. I’m definitely not winning any points in the trust department.

All six of us exchange glances and quick nods.

“It is time,” Tairn says.

The dragons inhale as one and then exhale fire into the chamber in six separate streams, instantly warming the air around us. This is exactly why they built it open to the sky—not as some kind of worship of the stars but because the dragons needed access for this.

I look away, turning my head to the side when the heat triggers my hypersensitive skin, still stinging from Solas’s assault. A heartbeat later, a pulse of magic vibrates through me in a wave, dredging my power to the surface with a feeling slightly softer than the one that had rippled out at the emergence of Aretia’s first hatchling.

The fire ceases, and the blazing heat dissipates into the winter air, leaving us all staring at the stone, at our dragons, at one another.

That leveled, anchored sensation I’ve only felt within the wards at Basgiath has returned, and the wild, unleashed magic that’s crawled under my skin since leaving Navarre seems to sit back, not weaker but infinitely more…tame. I lean over the edge to look, but the stone looks exactly the same as it did before.

Maybe the fire is more symbolic?

I glance over at Dain, and he smiles wider than I’ve seen in years, nodding to me. My quick grin mirrors his, and my chest swells with excitement. We did it. All the long nights and the cold days spent imbuing, all the squabbles over translation, and even my initial failure are worth it for this moment.

“Is that it?” Brennan asks, looking across the chamber’s opening at me. “We don’t exactly have time to test it.” Xaden points upward, where the

drifts have already taken to the sky, then locks his gaze with mine. “Let’s fly.”

airn has never flown faster, leaving Sgaeyl and Xaden behind as he surges for the cliff with the best vantage point for spotting wyvern—the edge of

T the high plains—usually a two-hour flight for Tairn, but this evening we make it a few minutes under that mark.

“They’re fifteen minutes behind us,” he tells me as he sails over miles and miles of agricultural fields, gradually descending until we land fifty yards from the edge of the cliffs. “Use it to center yourself.”

“Don’t tell me you’re taking Xaden’s side of this argument.” I unbuckle from the saddle and wince as I climb out of my seat. “I need to stretch my legs.”

“I don’t take the lieutenant anywhere.” He chuffs. “As if I have nothing better to do than listen to your romantic issues.”

“Sorry. Didn’t mean to jump to conclusions.” I navigate his spikes, and he dips his shoulder.

“Though I do take offense at your insult,” he notes as I slide down his leg.

“Insult?” My knee protests when my boots collide with the frozen ground, but the wrap holds tight.

“You doubt your judgment as if I did not choose you for it.”

“But you weren’t listening. Right.” Rolling my shoulders, I walk toward the edge of the cliff and summon just enough of my power that my skin warms even though my breath puffs out in clouds of steam.

There’s a hum here, too, and I instinctively know that this is where the wards end, twenty feet short of the cliff’s edge. This point is a four-hour flight from Aretia for average dragons—if such a creature exists.

Would this be the natural border of Basgiath’s wards if they weren’t extended by the outposts? That distance would leave Elsum, Tyrrendor, and even most of Calldyr unwarded.

Gods, we’re not even shielding most of Tyrrendor if this is the wardstone’s natural range.

“What’s the news?” I ask Tairn.

“The nearest riot of three is twenty miles to the north, and the same to the south.”

“No sightings?” We don’t have the strength Xaden wants in each unit tonight, but we can cover more of the border in groups of three, or in our

case, two. Deploying in smaller but closely spaced units gives the stronger dragons a better chance at communicating as well.

Every bonded pair has been recalled from the lines across Poromiel to defend the cliffs, but there’s no hope of those stationed in Cordyn, or beyond at the border with the Braevick province, making it back in time.

“Not from the cliffs.”

“But beyond?” I look out across the darkening landscape, searching for any sign of gray wings.

“I’d estimate we have a quarter hour.” He huffs a hot breath of steam that billows past me. “Prepare yourself. Sgaeyl approaches.”

“Do you think he’s right?” I ask, folding my arms across my chest as wingbeats break the relative silence of the night.

“I know he thinks he is.”

That’s helpful.

Sgaeyl lands close to Tairn, and I breathe in my last moments of peace and prepare myself for the battle to come before the actual war reaches us.

It isn’t long before I hear his familiar footsteps coming my way.

“No sightings on this side of the cliff,” I tell him as he reaches my side, keeping my shields firmly in place. “Tairn thinks we have fifteen minutes.”

“There’s no one else out here.” His words are clipped.

“Right. We’re the only pair.” I shift my weight, energy tingling in my fingers, slowly filling my cells, saturating me in preparation instead of drowning me as usual. “I know that goes against your full riot—”

“That’s not what I mean.” He shoves his gloves into his pockets, leaving his hands bare and ready to wield, the perfect picture of composure and control. “There’s no one within miles to hear us.”

My eyebrows shoot up, and I turn toward him in sheer incredulity. “I’m sorry, are you suggesting that the reason you didn’t answer my question back in Aretia was because you don’t trust your own sound shield on our room?”

“There is always someone better at something than you, including wards.” He winces. “And maybe that wasn’t the entire reason.”

“Spare me from whatever bullshit you’re about to impart.” My stomach twists, and I lower my voice into my best Xaden impression. “‘Ask me.’” I shake my head. “Yet, the first real question I pose, you duck out the door like a coward.”

“It never occurred to me that you’d ask about a second signet,” he argues.

“Liar.” I whip my gaze forward, studying the sky for movement and fighting the scalding anger that tests the Archives doors of my power. “You wouldn’t have told me that Sgaeyl bonded your grandfather if you never wanted me to know. Whether it was a conscious or unconscious choice, you made it. You knew I’d figure it out. Was it just another one of your ask me tests? Because if so, you failed this one, not me.”

“Don’t you think I know that?” he shouts, the words coming out strangled, like they had to be ripped from his throat.

The admission earns him my full attention, but his outburst is quickly smothered by his self-control, and we fall into strained silence as he stares off into the distance.

“Sometimes I feel like I don’t know you.” I study the harsh lines of his face as his jaw flexes. “How am I supposed to really love you if I don’t know you?”

I can’t, and I think we both know it.

“How long do you think it takes for someone to fall out of love?” He studies the skyline. “A day? A month? I’m asking because I don’t have any experience with it.”

What the fuck? I fold my arms to keep from giving in to the impulse to jab him with the sharp point of my elbow.

“I’m asking,” he continues, his throat working as he swallows, “because I think it will take you all of a heartbeat once you know.”

Apprehension slides up my spine and knots in my throat as I slightly lower my shields just enough to feel ice-cold terror along my bond with him. What the hell could his signet be that I wouldn’t love him?

Oh shit. What if he’s like Cat? What if he’s been manipulating my emotions this whole time? I swallow back the bile inching its way up my


“I would never do something like that,” he retorts, sending a sideways, wounded glare at me as he continues to watch the sky.

“Shit.” I rub my hands over my face. “I didn’t mean to say that out loud.”

He doesn’t respond.

“Just tell me what it is.” I reach for him, curling my fingers around the back of his arm. “You said that you trust me to stay because even if I don’t know your darkest deeds, I know what you’re capable of, but I don’t if you won’t tell me.” Somehow, we’re right back where we were months ago, neither of us fully trusting the other.

His mouth opens, but he snaps it shut, as if he was going to talk, then thought better of it.

“Signets have to do with who we are at our core and what we need,” I think out loud. If he won’t tell me, then I’ll figure it out my damn self. “You are a master of secrets, hence the shadows.” I gesture at the ones curled around his feet. “You’re deadly with every weapon you pick up, but that’s not a signet.” My brow furrows.


“You’re ruthless, which I guess could have something to do with an ability to shut off your emotions.” I shift my weight and study his face, watching for even the most minute sign that I’m onto something, and keep guessing, trusting Tairn to spot the wyvern before we do. “You’re a natural leader. Everyone gravitates toward you, even against their better judgment.” That last part comes out as a mutter. “You’re always in the right place—” My eyebrows rise. “Are you a distance wielder?” I’ve only read about two riders in all of history who could cross hundreds of miles in a single step.

“There hasn’t been a distance wielder in centuries, and don’t you think if I was one, I would have spent every night in your bed?” He shakes his head. “But what do you need?” I ponder, ignoring the tense set of his jaw.

“You need to question everyone to make your own impressions. You need to be a quick judge of character in order to know who to trust and who not to in order to have run those smuggling missions at Basgiath for years.

More than anything, you need control. It’s woven into every aspect of your personality.”

“Stop,” he demands.

I ignore the warning completely, just like I ignored Mira’s warning last year to stay away from him. “You need to fix— Never mind, if you could mend, you wouldn’t have brought me to Aretia. Let’s try eliminating signets instead. You can’t see the future, or you never would have led us to Athebyne. You can’t wield any element, or you would have done so in Resson—” I pause as a thought pushes past the others. “Who knows?”

“Stop before you go somewhere we can’t come back from.” Shadows move across the inches that separate us, winding up my calves as if he thinks he’s going to have to fight to keep me at his side.

“Who knows?” I repeat, my voice rising with my temper. Not that it matters. There’s no one else for miles, and there are no sound-seekers in Aretia capable of hearing across miles of distance like Captain Greely in General Melgren’s personal unit, hence why our communication times lag. “Do the marked ones know? Does the Assembly? Am I the only person close to you who doesn’t know, just like last year?” My hand falls away from his arm.

It’s impossible to have a signet that no one has detected, no one has trained. Has he played me for a fool again? The space between my ribs and my heart shrivels and shrinks, my chest threatening to crumple.

“For fuck’s sake, Violet. No one else knows.” He turns toward me in a move so fast it would intimidate someone else, but I know he’s incapable of hurting me—at least physically—so I merely tilt my chin and stare up into those gold-flecked eyes in blatant challenge.

“I deserve better than this. Tell me the truth.”

“You’ve always deserved better than me. And no one knows,” he repeats, his voice dropping. “Because if they did, I’d be dead.”

“Why would—” My lips part, and my pulse jumps as my head starts to swim.

He has to have full control. He has to make snap character judgments. He has to intrinsically know who to trust and who not to. In order for the

movement to have been as successful as it was within the walls of Basgiath, he has to know…everything.

Xaden’s most pressing need is information.

Tairn shifts, angling his body toward Sgaeyl instead of beside her.

Oh gods. There’s only one signet riders are killed for having. Fear churns in my stomach and threatens to bring up what little I’ve had to eat today.

“Yes.” He nods, his gaze boring into mine. Shit, did he just—

“No.” I shake my head and take a step backward out of his shadows, but he moves as if he takes the step with me.

“Yes. It’s how I knew I could trust you not to tell anyone about the meeting under the tree last year,” he says as I retreat another step. “How I seem to know what my opponent has planned on the mat before their next move. How I know exactly what someone needs to hear in order to get them to do what I need done, and how I knew if someone remotely suspected us while we were at Basgiath.”

I shake my head in denial, wishing I’d stopped pushing like he’d demanded me to.

He crosses the space between us. “It’s why I didn’t kill Dain in the interrogation chamber, why I let him come with us, because the second his shields wavered, I knew he’d had a true epiphany. How would I know that, Violet?”

He’d read Dain’s mind.

Xaden is more dangerous than I ever imagined.

“You’re an inntinnsic,” I whisper. Even the accusation is a death sentence among riders.

“I’m a type of inntinnsic,” he repeats slowly, like it’s the first time he’s ever said the words. “I can read intentions. Maybe I would know what to call it if they didn’t kill everyone with even a hint of the signet.”

My eyebrows jolt upward. “Can you read thoughts or not?”

His jaw flexes. “It’s more complicated than that. Think of that breath of a second before the actual thought, the subconscious motivation you might

not even be aware of in your mind, or when instinct drives you to move or you’re looking to betray someone. The intention is always there. Mostly they come across as pictures, but some people intend in really clear pictures.”

Tairn growls low in his throat and lowers his head at Sgaeyl as a rush of something bitter and sick floods our bond. Betrayal. I slam my shields up, blocking him out before I’m lost to his emotions, already struggling with mine.

He didn’t know.

Another rumble of anger vibrates his chest scales, and my heart lurches with pangs of sympathy.

Sgaeyl draws back in retreat, shocking me to the core, but holds her head high, exposing her throat to her mate.

The same way Xaden just metaphorically exposed his to me. All I have to do is tell someone—anyone—and he’s dead. A soft roaring fills my ears.

“There are some secrets even mates can’t share,” Xaden says, his eyes locked on mine, but his words are meant for Tairn. “Some secrets that can’t be spoken of even behind the protections of wards.”

“And yet you know everyone’s secrets, don’t you? Everyone’s intentions?” That’s why inntinnsics aren’t allowed to live. The implications of his signet hit me with the force of a battering ram, and I stagger backward like the blow is a physical one. How many times has he read me? How many pre-thoughts has he eavesdropped on? Do I actually love him? Or did he just say what I wanted to hear? Do the things I needed in order to

“Less than a minute,” Xaden whispers as Sgaeyl moves toward him— toward us. “That’s how long it took for you to fall out of love with me.”

My gaze flashes to his. “Don’t read my…whatever!”

Tairn stalks toward me, his head low and his teeth bared as he places himself at my back.

“I didn’t.” The saddest smile I’ve ever seen tugs at Xaden’s mouth. “First, because your shields are up, and secondly because I didn’t have to. It’s all over your face.”

My heart struggles to beat regularly, torn between slowing and sluggishly admitting defeat, and racing—no, rising to fight—in defense of the simple yet agonizing truth that I love him anyway.

But how many more blows can that love take? How many more daggers are there in that metaphorical armoire? Gods, I don’t know what to think. Nausea washes over me. Has he ever used it on me?

“Say something,” he begs, fear streaking through his eyes.

The roaring grows louder, the sound like a thousand soft drops of rain on a roof.

“My love isn’t fickle.” I shake my head slowly, keeping my gaze locked on his. “So you’d better live, because I’m ready to ask you all the fucking questions.”

“Silver One, mount!” Tairn bellows, demolishing the barrier of my shields like they’re thinner than parchment. “Wyvern!”

Xaden and I both spare a single glance to the edge of the cliffs. My stomach drops as I realize that the approaching gray cloud isn’t a storm and that roaring in my ears is actually wingbeats. One heartbeat, that’s all I wait, and then I’m turning, moving, sprinting across the frozen ground and racing up the ramp Tairn makes of his foreleg to his shoulder.

“How many?” I lower my flight goggles and blast the question down the mental pathway that connects the four of us as I climb into my saddle.

“Hundreds,” Sgaeyl answers.

“That’s unfortunate.” I force air through my lungs in measured breaths to keep calm, but my hand still trembles as I buckle the belt across my lap. The second I’m secure, Tairn swings his body parallel to the cliffs and launches, throwing my weight back into my seat as he climbs rapidly with heavy, forceful wingbeats.

When we have enough altitude for air superiority, Tairn banks left, flying in a tight circle until we face the flying horde. Then he pushes his wings back against the wind, abruptly halting our momentum and sending my body forward into the pommel as he hovers a hundred feet above the frozen field, leaving twice his body length between us and the cliff’s edge. “A little warning next time?” I use our private bond.

“Did you fall?” he challenges along the same, his wings rising and falling only often enough to keep us relatively in place.

I decide to keep my retort to myself as Xaden and Sgaeyl arrive on our right, keeping a noticeable distance from the edge of Tairn’s wing. “I’m sorry she didn’t tell you.”

“We will settle matters of emotion after matters of life.”


My stomach twists when I can make out individual shapes in the horde, then outright sours as evening sky appears between their wingbeats.

“Thirty seconds,” Tairn estimates.

I release the pommel and turn my palms up, opening the Archives door to Tairn’s power and letting it fill every cell in my body until the hum of energy I pick up on at the edge of the wards is replaced by the hum of energy that I’ve become.

“They’re slowing,” Xaden remarks as the horde spreads into a grouping I’m terrified to acknowledge looks like a formation.

Bile rises in my throat as I count one, two, three, four—“I count at least a dozen venin.”

“Seventeen,” Tairn corrects in a growl.

Seventeen dark wielders and a horde that rivals the riot at Aretia against…us. “We’re dead if the wards aren’t up, if I messed up the translation.”

“You didn’t,” Xaden replies, sounding infinitely more confident than I feel. Heat flushes my skin as my power seeks an outlet, but I keep it contained, ready to be wielded as three wyvern break away from the grouping and fly closer. They hover a tail’s length beyond the edge of the cliffs, their scales dull and gray, holes peppered through their wings as though they hadn’t quite finished forming.

“They can feel the wards,” I manage to say before my stomach abandons my body, plummeting like a rock. The rider on the center wyvern…

“Then they can die in them, too,” Sgaeyl replies.

I can only make out vague facial features from this distance, but I know in my very bones it’s him. The Sage from Resson, the one who’s taken up residence in my nightmares.

His head turns noticeably from me…to Xaden.

“He was in Resson,” I tell him.

“I know.” White-hot rage shimmers along the bond.

The Sage lifts his staff, then swings it like a club, pointing toward us.

“I love you,” Xaden says as the wyvern closest to me banks away from the wards, falling into a turning dive, only to gain speed and climb again, leveling out behind the lead two before flying straight for us. “Even if you believe nothing else I ever say, please believe that.”

“Do not speak to her as if death is a possibility,” Tairn snaps, slamming his own shields around us both, an impenetrable wall of black stone, blocking out Xaden and Sgaeyl.

I breathe deeply, using every ounce of concentration to keep my power contained and my emotions under control as the wyvern accumulates speed and flies past the lead two, heading for the wards.

Time slows to heartbeats, my breath freezing in my heated chest.

Then the wyvern crosses the invisible barrier, and my heart stops beating altogether as its wings flap once. Twice.

“Prepare to dive.” Tairn swivels his head, his jaw opening as the wyvern closes the distance to less than a body length, and I brace for the maneuver. “Never mind.”

The wyvern’s wings and head sag, and its body follows suit—as though someone plucked out its life force—and then it falls, propelled only by its previous momentum, passing forty feet beneath us and crashing into the field below, leaving a deep furrow before stopping.

“We should check—”

“Its heartbeat ceased,” Tairn tells me, his attention already redirected to the other two wyvern along the border and the horde behind them. “The wards work.”

The wards work. Relief restarts my heart.

The Sage swings his staff again and lets out a furious shout, sending the wyvern on the right, who meets the same fate a few seconds later, impacting a short distance from the first one.

Tairn doesn’t look when Sgaeyl dives for the carcasses, but he does lower his shields.

“They’re dead,” Xaden confirms a moment later, and I glance down to see Felix arriving on his Red Swordtail.

We’re safe. I throw out my hands and release the searing energy within me, letting it snap free as I wield. Lightning cracks open the sky, striking a few feet from the remaining wyvern, and I curse under my breath.

Close, but I didn’t hit him.

It’s enough for the Sage to call off the attack, and though I can’t see his eyes from here, I feel the hatred of his stare locking onto me as he looks back before joining the rest of the horde.

“That’s it?” I ask Tairn as he holds position, watching the wyvern become a cloud of gray once again. How…anticlimactic. “Now what?”

“Now we stay long enough to be sure, and then we go home.”

We wait another three hours before flying back, long enough for Suri to arrive and tell us of three similar incidents along the cliffs. We weren’t the lucky recipients of a lone horde. It was a coordinated, simultaneous attack.

But we survived.

The joyous atmosphere is contagious when we walk into Riorson House a few hours later, accompanied by Felix, and I’m promptly pulled into Rhiannon’s hug.

“You got the wards up!” Her flight leathers are still cold from the night air, meaning she’s just returned, too.

We got the wards up,” I counter before I’m yanked out of her arms and smooshed against Ridoc’s chest, then Sawyer’s, as riders and fliers celebrate around us, the noise filling the cavernous space of Riorson House’s foyer and somehow making the area feel smaller in the best way, less like a fortress and more like a home.

“We’re needed in the Assembly chamber right now,” Xaden says, leaning past Sloane and raising his voice to be heard over the cacophony.

Our eyes lock and I nod, keeping my shields firmly in place to block him out, which feels not only unnatural but…wrong. How ironic to celebrate a monumental victory and still feel like I’ve lost something precious. There hasn’t been a second alone to discuss the fact that if my shields were down, he’d already know how fucked up my head is about the signet he’s hidden.

I can’t imagine walking away from this, from us, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t have some serious issues we need to discuss—nor that I am not pissed as hell that he’s given me another reason to doubt my own ability to trust my own judgment. And just because I can’t imagine walking away doesn’t mean I won’t do it if we can’t find some healthy ground. I’m quickly learning it’s possible to love someone and not want to be with them at the same time.

The second we walk into the Assembly chamber and a guard shuts the door behind us, the noise outside falls away and eight pairs of eyes turn in our direction. None of them appear as happy as they should be, given what we’ve just accomplished.

Syrena and Mira break away from the Assembly and walk toward us as Felix calls Xaden over from the dais with an urgent tone.

“We need to find time to talk,” Xaden says quickly and quietly, and I know he only says it out loud because I won’t let him into my mind.

“Later,” I agree just to end the conversation before Mira and Syrena hear us. There isn’t enough time in the world to process what he’s told me.

He walks away as they approach, and I peel my gaze from his back to give my attention to my sister. The tension in her face has power rising within me swiftly, my body preparing for battle. “What’s wrong?”

“As soon as the attack was over, a missive was delivered to Ulices,” she tells me. “He was at the Terria outpost—”

“On the border with Navarre,” I finish for her, anxious to get to the heart of the matter.

“Melgren has asked us to meet with him tomorrow. He requested whomever represents our movement—no more than two marked ones

allowed—along with Violet and Mira Sorrengail.” She reaches for my hand and squeezes gently. “You can say no. You should say no.”

“Why would the commanding general of all Navarrian forces ask for a cadet and lieutenant?” My voice trails off and I glance over to the dais, where Brennan is locked in a quiet, heated discussion with the other six. “Our mother will be there.”

“And if a fight breaks out, we know it ends in his favor—otherwise, he would never summon us. He’s already seen the outcome.”

I stick that predicament on the growing list of things I’ll have to deal with.

“There’s something else you need to know,” Syrena says, drawing a dagger and placing it on her outstretched palm. With a flick of the flier’s wrist, the dagger rises a few inches, then spins when she twirls her index finger.

It’s a simple, lesser magic, something I learned last year—

“You can still wield.” My heart sinks at the wider implications, and my shoulders sag.

She nods solemnly. “As glad as I am to not be stripped of my power, I’m sorry to say there’s something wrong with your wards.”


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