Chapter no 6

Iron Flame (The Empyrean Book 2)

The churning in my stomach has nothing to do with the lemonade. I’m pretty sure Colonel Aetos just insinuated he’d kill us.

“Good thing we’re not keeping secrets,” Xaden retorts.

Aetos’s smile shifts to the softer one I’ve seen all my life, and the transformation is eerie. “Do be careful who you share your war stories with, Violet. I’d hate to see your mother lose either of her daughters.”

What the fuck? Energy crackles in my fingertips.

He stares at me for a moment, making sure I get his point, then turns and walks into commons without another word, Varrish following.

“He just threatened your life,” Xaden growls, shadows whipping out from behind the pillars.

“And Mira’s.” If I tell anyone what really happened, he’ll target her, too. Message delivered. Power burns through my veins, seeking an outlet. Anger only fuels the energy that swiftly surges to an overwhelming wave, threatening to rip me apart.

“Let’s get you outside before you bring the place down,” Xaden says, reaching for my hand.

I give it to him, focusing on keeping the lightning at bay as we walk into the courtyard, but the harder I fight to tame it, the hotter it becomes, and once we’re in the darkness of the courtyard, I rip my hand from Xaden’s as power tears from me, scalding every nerve on the way out.

Lightning illuminates the night sky, striking the courtyard about forty feet away. Gravel flies.


Xaden throws up a shield of shadow, catching the rocks before they can hit any of the nearby cadets. “Guess alcohol doesn’t dampen your signet,” he says slowly. “Good news is it’s all stone out here.”

“Sorry!” I call out to the others as they scatter, grimacing at my utterly embarrassing lack of control. “Forget protecting me. The quadrant needs protection from me.” Taking a deep breath, I turn to face Xaden. “Southern Wing? Is that what you chose?” Wingleaders always get their choice of duty station.

“There was no other choice by the time they handwrote our orders. I’ll be at Samara. I spent today packing and shipping most of my things.”

It’s the easternmost outpost of the Southern Wing, where the borders of Krovla and Braevick provinces intersect, and a day’s flight away. “They’ll only have hours together every time they make the flight.”

“Yeah. She’s pretty pissed.”

“Tairn, too.” I reach out for Andarna in case she hasn’t drifted off yet.

“You’ve lost all touch with reality if you think I’m getting close to him right now,” she responds, her voice gritty from sleep. “He’s in a mood.”

“You should be sleeping.” She’s supposed to be settling in for the Dreamless Sleep. I still don’t know exactly what that means, nor is Tairn open to questions on the parenting secrets of dragons, but he insists that sleeping away the next two months is critical to her growth and development. Part of me can’t help wondering if it’s simply a clever way to avoid a majority of the teenage years of moody dragons.

As if on cue, Andarna replies with a yawn, “And miss all the drama?”

“We’ll only have hours to…” I whisper, looking away from Xaden’s intense gaze. “You know. To pass information.” The courtyard reminds me of a ballroom about two hours after everyone reasonable has left the party, full of drunkards and bad decisions. How the hell are Xaden and I going to fix whatever we are without time together?

“Pretty sure that’s precisely the idea. They’ll split us up for as long and as often as possible. We’ll have to make the most of what time we get.”

“I don’t hate you as much tonight,” I whisper.

“It’s the alcohol. Don’t worry, you’ll despise me again tomorrow.” He reaches out, and I don’t retreat when he cradles the nape of my neck.

Warmth spreads over every inch of my body. The affect he has on me is as infuriating as it is undeniable.

“Listen to me.” He lowers his voice and gently tugs me toward him, shooting a glance at a group of tipsy cadets watching nearby. “Play along.”

I nod.

“I’ll be back in seven days,” he says for the benefit of the people passing by. “Sgaeyl and Tairn won’t be able to talk over the distance. They’ll sense emotions, but that’s it. Remember that leadership will read any missive we send.” He leans down, making it look to everyone else like we’re locked in some kind of farewell embrace, which isn’t far from the truth.

“A lot can happen in seven days.” I understand what he’s telling me mentally. “What am I supposed to do while you’re gone?”

“Nothing that matters will change,” he assures me for the benefit of onlookers. “Don’t involve yourself in anything Bodhi and the others are doing.” He has that look—the steely one he gets when he’s sure he’s right.

You really aren’t going to change, are you?” I whisper, my chest tightening.

“This isn’t about us. Every eye will be on you, and you don’t have a rebellion relic to hide your actions from Melgren if you’re caught alone. Involving yourself endangers everything we’re working for.” Another group of cadets wanders closer, heading toward the rotunda.

It’s hard to argue against that, especially when what I have planned requires being left to my own devices.

“I’m going to miss you.” His hand flexes on the back of my neck as a couple of riders from Third Wing get a little too close. “You can only fully trust those who were with us at Resson.”

“Think of all the spare time you’ll have without having to constantly train me on the mat.” I give in to the ceaseless urge to touch him, lifting my

hands to his chest so I can feel the steady beat of his heart under my fingertips, and blame the alcohol for the utter lapse in judgment.

“I’d much rather have you under me on the mat than spare time.” His arm wraps around my waist, tugging me closer. “When it comes to the other marked ones, don’t risk trusting them. Not yet. They know they can’t kill you, but some of them would be happy to see you hurt given who your mother is.”

“Back to that, are we?” I try to smile, but my lower lip trembles. I’m not actually upset about him leaving. That’s the lemonade talking.

“Never left that,” he reminds me, keeping his voice low even though the others in the courtyard are now giving us more than enough privacy. “Keep yourself alive, and I’ll be back in seven days.” His hand slides to the side of my neck, and his thumb grazes my jawline as he lowers his mouth to only a breath above mine. “We managed to keep each other alive today. Trust me yet?”

My heart jolts. I can almost taste his kiss, and gods, I want it. “With my life,” I whisper.

“That’s all?” His mouth hovers above mine, all promise and no delivery. “That’s all.” Trust is earned, and he isn’t even trying.

“Too bad,” he whispers, lifting his head. “But like I said, anticipation is a good thing.”

Common sense crashes through the fog of lust with embarrassing ease.

For fuck’s sake, what did I almost do?

“No anticipation.” I outright glare, but my words lack bite. “We aren’t happening, remember? That’s your choice. I have every right to walk right back into the gathering hall and pick whomever I want to warm my bed. Someone a little more ordinary.” It’s a bluff. Maybe. Or alcohol. Or maybe I just want him to feel the same uncertainty I do.

“You absolutely have every right, but you won’t.” He gives me a slow smile.

“Because you’re impossible to replace?” It does not come out as a compliment. At least that’s what I tell myself.

“Because you still love me.” The certainty in his eyes pricks every inch of my temper.

“Fuck off and leave, Riorson.”

“I would, but you’ve got a death grip on me.” He glances between our bodies.

“Ugh!” I drop my hands from his waist and step back. “Go.”

“See you in seven days, Violence.” He backs away, moving toward the tunnel that leads to the flight field. “Try not to burn the place down while I’m gone.”

I glare in his general direction until I know he’s far beyond my sight. And then I stand there another couple minutes, breathing slowly until I’m certain I have my emotions under some semblance of control. What the hell is wrong with me? How can I want someone who refuses to tell me his whole truth? Who makes a game out of it with his ridiculous ask me anything act? Like I’d have the first clue what to ask?

“He’ll be back,” Rhi says, coming up behind me, holding a missive of her own, excitement shining in her eyes despite the somber tone of her words.

“I shouldn’t care.” Yet I’m still wrapping my arms around my midsection like I need to be held together. “What has you fighting a smile?” “Did something happen between you two?” She moves the letter to her


“What’s the letter?” I counter. “Did you get orders?” Orders usually only mean one thing. I grab onto her shoulders and grin. “Did you?”

She grimaces. “I have good news and bad news.” “Bad news first.” That’s my new motto.

“Aetos is our new wingleader.”

My face falls. “Should have expected that. What’s the good news?”

“Cianna, our executive officer, moved up to being executive officer of the section.” Her smile is brighter than any mage light. “And you’re looking at our new squad leader.”

“Yes!” I outright squeal in absolute delight and yank her into a hug. “Congratulations! You’re going to be amazing! You already are!”

“Are we celebrating?” Sawyer asks loudly from the edge of the courtyard.

“Abso-fucking-lutely!” Ridoc shouts, ale sloshing over the sides of his mug as he rushes toward us. “Squad Leader Matthias!”

“What’s your first order, squad leader?” Sawyer asks, Nadine racing to catch up to his long strides.

Rhi glances over each of us and nods as though coming to a decision. “Live.”

I smile and wish it was that simple.

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