Dawn is still an hour away as the riders in our squad stand on the ridgeline above the main campus of Basgiath, our dragons lined up behind us. The horizon holds a vague outline, the promise of light, but it winks in and out of my vision as the skyline shifts, the wavering shape on
constant approach growing larger with every minute.
Hundreds of feet below, in front of the gates of Basgiath, my mother waits upon Aimsir, with her personal squad, including Mira and Teine, slightly behind her. She’s in front of us all, her three children and the place she’s sacrificed us—and her very soul—for.
“They’re coming,” Tairn tells me, his posture stiff while the others shift their weight or dig their talons into the snow-covered decomposed granite of the mountainside.
Squads from Third and Fourth Wings stand in formation up and down the mountains around us, but both First and Second Wings—half our forces, now that we’re back with the Basgiath cadets—have been sent to the edge of the Vale. while our squad guards the airspace above the hundred yards between the back of main campus and the steep ridgeline we stand on, including the very well-hidden entrance to the ward chamber hundreds of feet below, where Brennan is working. Sloane, Aaric, and the other first-
years are with him under the guise of fetching whatever he needs, but Rhi ordered them to Brennan’s side mostly to keep them safe.
“I know.” I glance over my shoulder at where Andarna nips at her harness between Tairn and Sgaeyl. She showed up an hour ago and refused to leave.
“Is this how it felt in Resson?” Rhiannon asks from my right, her hands nervously flitting over her sheaths and scabbard.
“How are you feeling?” I ask.
“So scared I’m pretty sure either my heart’s going to give out or I’m about to shit myself,” Ridoc answers from her other side.
“I was going to say horrifyingly scared, but sure, that works, too.” Rhiannon nods.
“Yes. That’s exactly how it felt.” I do the customary checks again, not that I’d have time to get back to my room if I left anything. Xaden retrieved the dagger I’d put in Jack’s shoulder, which gives me a full twelve, plus two alloy-hilted ones and the handheld crossbow strapped at my right thigh. I’m fully armed.
Thanks to the daggers we brought with us and the forge here at Basgiath, every cadet is armed.
“Does it ever get easier? Going into battle?” Sawyer asks beside Ridoc, peering down at the college. Infantry has been deployed into every courtyard, every hallway, and every entrance, the last line of a very fragile defense.
“No,” Xaden answers from my left. “You just get better at hiding it.
Everyone clear on the plan?”
“Riders answer to Rhi, fliers answer to Bragen,” Quinn recites to our squad from down the line to the left. “When they arrive.”
The fliers are still hunting down the boxes. Without the lures, maybe the wyvern would have waited until daylight. Maybe it would have taken them longer to get a feel for where the hatching grounds are. Maybe destroying the lures will deter the next horde that inevitably follows. But a thousand maybes won’t change what we’re facing now.
“We stay in our sector,” Imogen says from Quinn’s side, braiding the longer pink strands of her hair to keep it out of her eyes. “Should a wyvern leave our airspace, we let it become another squad’s responsibility, so that we don’t accidentally leave our sector unguarded. We maintain our airspace at all costs.”
“Rhiannon is on dagger duty,” Ridoc says, rubbing his hands together even though it’s uncharacteristically warm this morning. I can’t even see my breath. “She’ll fetch and distribute should any venin fall from their wyvern and take our dagger with them.”
“Any reason you can’t just drag them all down with all that shadow power?” Sawyer glances Xaden’s way like there’s any possible chance he hasn’t already considered that, the look mirrored by Rhi and Ridoc.
“Other than the reason that I almost burned out holding forty of them back in a narrow space like a valley, and there are what looks to be ten times that amount on an open plain?” Xaden counters, arching his scarred brow.
“Right. That.” Sawyer nods to himself.
“Getting caught up in the wyvern is a mistake,” I warn them as the downslope breeze becomes noticeable wind, but it, too, lacks the icy chill of December. “Yes, they’ll try to kill us, but don’t let them distract you from their creator. Kill the venin who created them, and those wyvern will fall. In our experience, they stick close to their creations during a battle.”
“You know your pairs?” Rhi asks, glancing down the line. Everyone nods. Our goal is always two against one in our favor. “Mount up,” Rhiannon orders.
I turn quickly and gather her into a hug, and she grabs for Sawyer and Ridoc, yanking them in, too. “Don’t freeze,” I tell them. “No matter what happens, just keep moving. And stay in the air. They can kill you if they drain the ground you’re standing on. No one dies today.”
“No one dies today,” Ridoc repeats, and Sawyer nods as we break apart. “Did you see Jesinia?” Rhi asks Sawyer.
My eyebrows rise. “She’s here?”
“Flew in with Maren,” Sawyer says, his head bobbing. “Guess gryphons are a little more easygoing in that department than dragons. She’s in the Archives, comparing Warrick’s journal to Lyra’s to see if she can figure out why the wards in Aretia are faulty. Once you said you were scared the wards would fall here, she started worrying we wouldn’t be able to get them back up without knowing what went wrong in Aretia. Turns out she’s right.”
“She shouldn’t be at Basgiath.” I shake my head, and my heart races to a gallop. “She’s completely defenseless down there.”
“She was worried she’d figure out the difference between the journals and be too far away to help. And if Brennan mends that stone, she’s our only chance at raising the wards here successfully,” Sawyer replies, backing away to follow Ridoc to their dragons.
“She has just as much right to risk her life as we do,” Rhi reminds me over her shoulder, heading toward Feirge. “Now, warm up those wielding hands or do whatever it is you need to do to set this place on fire.”
I turn to Andarna while Xaden finishes talking to Quinn and Imogen. “Promise me you’ll stay hidden.”
“I can hide.” She backs up a step, and I blink… It’s almost as if she’s faded straight into the darkness.
“Benefit of being a black dragon,” Tairn chuffs. “We’re born for the night.”
I follow Andarna and scratch the scales between her nostrils when she lowers her head. “Stay put. Marbh is below you, keeping watch over Brennan. If the tide of the battle turns, he’ll watch after you, but you have to go. Promise me.”
“I will stand. I will keep watch. But I will not leave you this time.” She huffs a breath that scents lightly of sulfur, and my heart sinks. She’s seen too much for someone her age.
“It was easier when you were a juvenile.” I give her one last scratch. Every dragon in our squad knows to take care of her if Tairn and I fall. But only she can make the choice to let go.
“I didn’t listen then, either.”
“It’s almost time,” Tairn announces, and my heartbeat accelerates as I turn toward the rising sun, a strip of orange illuminating not only the horizon but the massive cloud of wyvern that’s nearly here.
Another gust of warm wind blows, and the stars wink out above us as dark clouds billow from over the mountains, charging the air with an energy that calls to my own.
Xaden meets me between Tairn and Sgaeyl, a scenario that reminds me entirely too much of Resson. He reaches for me, his warm hand cupping the back of my neck. “I love you. The world does not exist for me beyond you.” Leaning down, he rests his forehead against mine. “I couldn’t tell you that the last time we flew into a fight, and I should have.”
“I love you, too.” I grasp his waist and force a smile. “Do me a favor and don’t die. I don’t want to live without you.” There are so many of them and so few of us.
“We don’t die today.”
“If only we all felt that kind of certainty,” I try to joke.
“You keep your focus on the enemy and your life.” He kisses me hard and quick. “Even Malek himself couldn’t keep me from you.”
I pull back at the first splatter on my head. “Rain?” Xaden looks up. “In December?” Warmth. Rain. The charge in the air.
“It’s my mother.” A slow smile spreads across my face. “It’s her way of imbuing her favorite weapon.” Me.
“Remind me to thank her afterward.” He pulls me into another quick kiss, then turns away without another word, mounting Sgaeyl at a run.
I glance up at the sky and breathe deeply to carry the pressure my mother has just put on me. The storm will help me, but if the rain increases, it will cost us the help of the gryphons. They can’t fly in anything much heavier than a drizzle.
“They’ll guard the ground and ferry the wounded,” Tairn says as he lowers his shoulder. I walk up his foreleg, rain splattering against his scales. Settling into the saddle, I buckle the strap across my thighs and check to be
sure the quiver Maren gave me is securely fastened to the left side of the saddle, within easy reach. I don’t want to risk my shoulder slipping out by strapping it to my back. Then I grab the conduit from my pocket and slip the new steel bracelet attached to the top of it over my wrist.
Only then, when I’m certain I’m as prepared as I can be, when power flows through my veins with a heat that doesn’t quite burn, do I look forward to the approaching enemy.
My heartbeat stutters.
Gods, they’re everywhere, their horde larger than any riot I’ve ever seen.
Flying at multiple altitudes—most equal with our position—the sea of gray wings, straining necks, and gaping jaws devours the sunrise.
We’ve grossly underestimated their numbers, and knowing there’s another wave following this? My throat tightens as I glance down the line of my squad. There’s no chance all of us are getting out of this alive…if any of us do.
But we just have to hold out long enough for Brennan to mend the wardstone. If we can raise the wards, even if Jesinia doesn’t find what we missed in Aretia, we can stun the wyvern long enough to kill them.
Within a few breaths, the wyvern are close enough that I can make out which of them bears a rider, and when I reach two dozen in the count, I stop for the sake of my own sanity. Terror slides up my spine, and I breathe deeply to force it back down. I’m no good to Tairn and Andarna—to anyone in my squad—if I give in to panic, and I’ll be even worse, a liability, if I don’t keep fully in control.
They’ll be within range in only minutes.
“Maybe we should have ridden out. Engaged them over the plains.” I can’t help but second-guess our plan as fear tightens my chest and speeds my heart rate.
“There are too many of them. They could have flanked and surrounded us easily. Here, we know every canyon, every peak, and they cannot circumvent us,” Tairn answers.
They’ll have to go through us.
“They’re spreading out,” Tairn says, his head swiveling. “Their formation indicates they’ll engage all our forces instead of targeting the Vale as we’d planned for.”
My stomach plummets. We’ve allocated ourselves poorly. “Then we’ll just have to be sure they never reach the Vale, won’t we?”
“You’ll only have a clear firing field for a matter of seconds,” Tairn reminds me.
“I know.” Once the dragons engage, I’m just as likely to strike one of our own as I am a wyvern. This first strike counts for everything. I lift my hands and open the Archives door to a steady but manageable flow of power, savoring the quick sizzle along my skin that comes with the rush of energy.
“Tell Aimsir I need Mom to move that cloud—”
“Yes,” Tairn says, following my stream of thoughts to its conclusion before I even voice them.
I let the conduit rest against my forearm and concentrate on the cloud above us, blinking the steady fall of rain from my eyes.
The dragons beside us begin to shift their weight, their shoulders rolling in preparation to launch, but Tairn remains as still as the mountain we stand on. I spare a single glance over my shoulder for Andarna, but— “Where are you?” The battle hasn’t even started yet and she’s already left her position.
“Hiding like I promised.” She peeks out from a cluster of boulders.
“Get ready,” Tairn orders as the clouds roll overhead at a supernatural speed, rushing toward the enemy.
I focus on the horde. Without an outlet, power builds within me, so hot I start to think I might breathe fire, and I let it gather, let it burn, let it threaten to consume me.
“Violet…” Xaden says.
“Not yet,” I answer. They’ll be on us in seconds, but it has to be the right second. Sweat beads on my forehead.
My mother’s storm overtakes the wyvern at the highest altitude, and I release the torrent of scalding power, aiming it skyward.
Lightning cracks, jolting upward from the very ground of the ridge beneath ours in a blast of light so powerful it stings my eyes as it strikes into the cloud.
I drop my arms as the bodies fall. “Maybe this will be easier than—” Never mind. The wyvern’s tactics adjust within seconds, just like the riders who control them, and they fly under the cloud cover, swerving to dodge plummeting carcasses of their horde.
“Holy shit!” Ridoc shouts as wyvern crash into the four roads that lead to Basgiath, their bodies leaving deep furrows in the ground.
That won’t work again, so I slide the orb into my palm and summon power once more, drawing a faster, more concentrated stream as I target the nearest rider-bearing wyvern.
Fire whips through me as I wield, missing that wyvern but hitting another. Shit.
“Focus on the next strike, not the last,” Tairn says.
“Hold!” Xaden shouts, keeping the field clear long enough for me to fire off another strike.
I lift my hands again, giving Tairn’s power dominion over my bones and muscles, then draw another strike to wield. Energy tears through me, and instead of flaring my palms, I concentrate on the intent of my fingers just like Felix taught me, drawing them downward with the strike, directing it to the target as though I am the composer and the lightning is my orchestra.
It strikes true, the wyvern and rider falling in separate, lifeless descents. A handful of other wyvern fall from the sky with the death of that dark wielder, but there’s no time for relief or joy at the accomplishment when there are countless more.
And they’re here.
My mother’s squad launches to attack the first wave that intrudes upon their assigned sector. Aimsir rips the throat from one wyvern before I lose sight of my mother and Mira as the horde passes through their sector and into the next.
“Focus on your sector,” Tairn orders, and I rip my gaze from the area I’d last seen my family.
Second by second, each of the squads around and below us launch to defend their sectors, and when the first menacing gray snout crosses our line—the end of Basgiath’s structures and the beginning of the mountain—I brace.
Tairn rears back, then hurtles forward, beating his wings as he runs for the edge of the ridgeline, then flying off it. I yank my goggles over my eyes at the first sting of wind, then quickly shove them back up when rain makes the glass impossible to see through.
“That one’s ours,” Tarin tells me, flying directly for the fastest of the horde to enter our airspace.
Quinn and Imogen bank left, heading toward other targets, and I see the rest of the squad in my peripherals, but I keep my focus on the wyvern Tairn has claimed as we fly toward a head-on collision.
I grasp the conduit with one hand and lift my other as the space between us narrows to heartbeats. There’s no need to reach for power; it’s already there, both racing through my veins and charging the sky overhead.
Energy sizzles at the ends of my fingertips, and just as I aim to wield, the riderless wyvern drops his jaw and breathes out a stream of green fire. My heart lurches into my throat as the flames barrel toward us, and Tairn rolls left, narrowly missing the blaze.
I throw my weight right to keep level as we pass the wyvern, keeping my focus on the creature, and then strike, drawing lightning from the cloud above. It hits the wyvern just above the tail—I didn’t calculate my strike closely enough to account for speed, but the charge is more than enough to drop it.
“Below,” Tairn growls, plunging into a dive.
I blink furiously into the wind, noting three wyvern trying to get through at a lower altitude. “I can’t strike here. I chance hitting someone above if I draw from the sky, they’re too far to pull from myself, and if I miss from the ground up—”
I throw both hands on the pommel and do just that, spotting the rider on the center wyvern as we drop hundreds of feet in seconds, power a constant
buzz in my ears.
Tairn strikes from above, flying directly into the wyvern on the left, and the impact whips my body forward as he sinks his teeth into the neck of the beast, dragging it down under us as we continue to fall.
The wyvern screeches, and I reach for one of my alloy-hilted blades, pivoting in my seat to watch Tairn’s back and squinting into the rain as two massive shapes give chase. “They’re coming.”
A sickening crack sounds beneath us, and Tairn releases the wyvern, its neck broken as it falls the last hundred feet to the terrain below, somewhere behind the administration building.
Banking right, Tairn begins to climb with hard beats of his wings, but there’s no way we’ll have the high ground in time. They’re less than fifty feet away, and at the angle of the remaining two wyvern’s descent, we have seconds before Tairn becomes a chew toy. I check beneath us—we’re clear
—then grasp onto the conduit and take a steadying breath to calm the racing beat of my heart and the wild rush of adrenaline in my veins. Control. I need complete control.
There’s only time for one strike. I release power, drawing it upward with my blade, and lightning streaks into the sky, hitting the closest wyvern in the chest.
“Yes!” I shout as the creature tumbles from the sky, but my joy is short-lived as its counterpart, complete with dark wielder, surges forward, opening its jaws to reveal rotten teeth and a green glow in its throat. “Tairn!”
The warning is barely past my lips when a band of shadow winds around the wyvern’s throat and jerks it backward like a rabid dog at the end of a leash, its teeth missing the tip of Tairn’s wing by mere feet as we continue to fly upward.
“Sgaeyl has claimed that one. We’ll have to find our own,” he tells me, climbing faster than ever into the driving rain.
I use precious seconds to scan our surroundings. Every sector is overwhelmed, ours included. Only flashes of color appear through the swarm of gray as we soar toward the conflict above us, but the majority of
the wyvern still hover in the distance, held back on the edge of the thunderstorm.
“They only sent the first wave,” Tairn explains. “Probably to probe for weaknesses.”
Falling toward us, Aotrom has his claws raked into the belly of a wyvern, and I catch a glimpse of Ridoc as they spiral past, Imogen and her Orange Daggertail, Glane, on their heels.
“Ridoc!” I shout at Tairn.
“Focus on your mission or the plan falls apart. Trust the others to do theirs.” He flies straight through the mayhem of gray, bursting into the airspace above it before he levels out.
He’s right, we have a job to do, but trusting my friends to do their part feels a lot like ignoring them, too. Rain soaks my scalp and runs off my leathers as I survey the battlefield beneath us, forcing my breath in through my nose and out through my mouth to lower my heart rate.
This isn’t the melee of Resson. This is a coordinated defense, and I need to focus so I can do my part.
Feirge is locked in close combat with a greenfire—a blast of blue fire erupts from its mouth—make that bluefire wyvern, and my heart clenches when Rhi narrowly misses the fire stream by leaping from Feirge’s back to Cruth’s. Quinn grabs hold of her forearm as the Green Scorpiontail stabs hard with her tail, and I rip my gaze away when I realize they have it under control and there’s nothing I can do.
But Sawyer is outmatched fifty feet below as Sliseag goes head-to-head with three wyvern, one of whom bears a rider. I grip the conduit, then flood my body with another wave of power and lift my hand.
“Don’t miss,” Tairn warns.
I focus on the wyvern farthest from Sliseag just in case, then wield, drawing the power to my target with full focus and intention. Energy rips through me, and lightning strikes from the cloud above, white-hot and fatal to the wyvern below.
The rider looks up and locks eyes with me for a heartbeat before the pair dives, falling out of the battle. My stomach sours. There’s only one reason
to go to ground. To feed.
“On it,” he assures me, and when Aotrom and Glane arrive to help Sawyer and Sliseag, I turn my attention to the other sectors.
“Three,” Tairn notes, using the hands of the clock like we’d discussed, and I look right, where wyvern overrun a squad in Third Wing. The body of a dragon lies beneath them on the mountainside, but I look away before I take note of who they’ve lost.
If I focus on tomorrow’s death roll, I’ll be on it.
“Hold as steady as you can.” I throw open the floodgates of his power as he banks right, flying toward their sector but not into it, and I wield, heat prickling my skin as I take down one wyvern.
Then I aim again for another. And another.
Again and again, I wield in targeted, precise strikes for the sectors around us, hitting two-thirds of my targets but never striking a dragon, which I count as the ultimate win. Rain sizzles as it hits my skin, but I don’t dare remove my flight jacket when my daggers are strapped to it, so I put the heat, the pain, into my mental box and slam the lid shut on it, forcing my mind to ignore the agonizing burn and wield again.
I face forward and find the target, missing twice before I hit it. There are no venin left in our sector, but my hand trembles on the conduit as Tairn locates another wyvern, another threat, and I pull lightning from the sky so quickly that I no longer feel like I direct the storm.
I am the storm.
“You tire,” Tairn warns.
Fuck exhaustion. “People are dying.” A quick glance over the sunrise-lit battlefield reveals more and more spots of color among the gray carcasses littered on the ground, but I only stop quickly enough to note my squad is still fighting, handling each wyvern that crosses into our sector with teamwork and efficiency.
“Nine,” Tairn rumbles but doesn’t argue with me as he rolls left, keeping us above the battle, as I wield for the next squad, taking only the targets I’m certain of hitting without endangering our own riders.
Beneath me, shadows streak into other sectors as Xaden does the same.
Gods, the heat is going to cook me alive. Even the wind and rain aren’t enough to cool the inferno growing inside my chest. I slip the conduit’s bracelet from my wrist, then wedge it between my thighs long enough to strip my flight jacket off and slide it under the strap of my saddle, leaving me six daggers short, but they’re in easy reach and the other two are the only ones that matter any—
“Twelve!” Tairn shouts, and I whip my head toward the plains to see another wave of wyvern soaring over my mother’s sector, dangerously close to the clouds but not in them, leaving me unable to strike, given who’s under them.
My heart stutters as they pass my mother without stopping, then barrel through the next without engaging.
Flying on top of the battle has given me the needed vantage point to wield, but it’s also made us an undeniable target, and they’re coming for us. I shove my hand through the strap of the bracelet so I don’t lose the conduit. “We should lead them away—”
“We will follow the plan.” Tairn dives, and my weight lifts against the straps of the saddle as we plunge toward my squad. The Second Squad dragons turn their heads toward the oncoming threat, all of us rising or falling into formation. “Prepare.”
There are three venin on this assassination mission, their blue tunics standing out in stark contrast to the gray, bleary-eyed wyvern they ride. We’ve got ten seconds. Maybe.
One. Ridoc waves his hands at my right, holding a dagger that’s been snapped in two. Shit, if his only remaining blade is broken—I blink when the pieces disappear. He wasn’t waving at me.
Two. Snapping my head to the left, I find the pieces already in Rhiannon’s hands as Feirge dives to where Sliseag hovers beneath.
Three. Feirge flies alongside Sliseag, and Rhiannon tosses the pieces.
Four. To Sawyer’s credit, he catches them.
Five. Sgaeyl rises to take Feirge’s place, and I lock eyes with Xaden only long enough to see that he’s unharmed. Blood both drips from Sgaeyl’s mouth and runs in rain-driven rivulets down the side of Xaden’s face, but I instinctively know it’s not his and focus on the imminent threat.
Six. Breathe. I have to breathe through the firestorm in my chest or I’ll burn out. It’s not that I don’t recognize the signs: the trembling, the heat, the fatigue. It’s just that they don’t matter. Everyone I love is on this field.
Seven. They’re almost on us, and I look down at the ward chamber, where Marbh stands watch with a Blue Clubtail I don’t recognize and a vague shape I hope is Andarna, and when a flash of sunlight reflects on the dagger in Sawyer’s hand, it disappears again, Feirge already on the move.
Eight. “Dajalair is frustrated by the unflyable conditions,” Tairn relays as Feirge rises alongside Aotrom.
Nine. “Tell them they’re more efficient guarding the courtyard and incoming wounded than struggling with waterlogged wings,” I note. “They’d be a liability up here right now, not an asset.”
The dagger changes hands, and Ridoc is once again armed.
I grin at how seamlessly we work as a team, then face the coming tidal wave.
Ten. “You’re beginning to think—” Tairn starts.
“Like Brennan?” I suggest as the wyvern enter our airspace.
“Like Tairn,” Sgaeyl answers, surging toward the enemy, her neck outstretched as shadows streak from under her, grasping a wyvern at the jugular and dragging it with them as Sgaeyl drops away from formation.
Tairn lunges toward another, throwing me back into the saddle as he takes the wyvern head-on. I jolt forward upon impact, blood spraying as Tairn’s jaw locks on the throat of the wyvern.
Its screech rattles my brain as their claws grapple between them, forcing us into a vertical position that’s nearly impossible to maintain, even with Tairn’s wings beating this hard.
A flash of blue is all the warning I need to palm an alloy-hilted dagger and drop the conduit against my forearm to reach for my buckle, preparing
to release it. I’ve seen this play before. I know this role. And this time I’m not coming away with a stab wound.
“Can you level out?” My heart jolts as the dark wielder jumps from the wyvern’s neck to Tairn’s, ignoring the menacing roar that vibrates Tairn’s scales as he holds the wyvern in a death grip.
“Stay in your saddle!” he demands but rolls us horizontal.
The venin grabs a horn and holds on, his eerie, red-rimmed eyes never leaving mine during the maneuver or the seconds after when we fall into a rapid descent, the wyvern’s weight pulling us downward. No spiderwebbed veins—he’s just an asim, and I can handle him.
“You’re the one he wants,” the dark wielder announces, shoving his wet, stringy blond hair out of his eyes and striding down Tairn’s neck as I yank at the belt with my left hand, but the buckle doesn’t give.
He looks so…young. But so did Jack.
Tairn releases the wyvern, his shoulders bunching to push off the dying creature, but it snaps at his neck, and Tairn retaliates with a stronger bite, bleeding the life out of it as we fall and fall and fall.
“Your Sage?” I wrench on the leather, but the belt is stuck, and so am I. Fuck.
I flip the dagger to its tip, catching the water-slick blade between my thumb and forefinger, and flick my wrist, firing the dagger toward him when he reaches the spikes between Tairn’s shoulders.
He catches the blade, and pure panic floods my bloodstream as I pull my spare.
“You’ll meet them all soon enough,” he promises, raising my own blade as he marches toward me.
A green blur comes at us from the right, and we both look as Rhiannon jumps from Feirge to Tairn, landing in front of my saddle in a crouch.