Chapter no 63

Iron Flame (The Empyrean Book 2)

The dark wielder turns, but he isn’t fast enough. Andarna lands directly in front of him, then opens her mouth and breathes fire down upon him, roasting the dark wielder before she snaps her jaws down and rips his head

straight off his body.

I fall into the melting slush at the same time his corpse does, and she spits out the decapitated, smoking head, then huffs a hot breath of sulfur-laced steam.

What. The. Actual. Fuck.

“You…” I scramble to my feet and stumble toward her. “You just…”

“I breathe fire.” She preens, flaring her wings.

“Did you just eat him?” Cat stands but keeps her distance.

“You do not speak to dragons you do not ride, human.” Andarna snaps her teeth in Cat’s direction.

“You looked like a part of the cliff.” I stare at Andarna like I’ve never seen her before. Maybe I never have.

“I told you I could hide.” She blinks at me.

I open my mouth, then shut it, searching for words where there are none. That wasn’t hiding. Her scales are as black as Tairn’s now. Maybe I’m seeing things?

Tairn lands to the right, sending slush flying, then looks over our small battlefield with quick appraisal. “You made quick work of it.”

“She did.” I point to Andarna as Sgaeyl and Sliseag land behind Tairn. “You breathe fire,” Tairn acknowledges, a note of pride in his voice. “I breathe fire.” Andarna extends her neck to the fullest.

“Melgren orders us to the Vale.” Tairn’s eyes narrow, and his head swivels toward Sgaeyl.

“They’re pulling the whole squad to the Vale?” I glance upward, noting there are only two wyvern left in our sector.

The horde tires of hovering, waiting for permission to attack. That’s what the dark wielder said. The final wave hasn’t struck yet.

“Not the whole squad. Just us,” Xaden clarifies, walking around Tairn. Tiny tendrils of steam rise where rain meets the exposed skin of his arms. He looks as tired as I feel, and there’s a laceration on his forearm, but the lack of any other visible damage makes my shoulders dip in relief.

“They haven’t sent their last wave yet, and Sawyer and Aotrom are already wounded. Moving the two of us leaves the squad and Brennan and the wardstone too exposed.” I shake my head. We can’t let that happen. Brennan’s our best chance at surviving this.

“Exactly,” Xaden says as he reaches my side. “You’re all right?” His arm winds around my shoulders as he presses a hard kiss on my temple. “They’re holding their own up there while this wave recedes. We need to go argue our point quickly.”

“I’m all right,” I promise. “Let’s go.”

“They’re out front. We’ll meet you there,” Tairn says.

“Go to Marbh,” I tell Andarna, pushing on my left shoulder and rotating the joint to try and ease the sharp, pulsing pain deep within the joint.

“I will be where you need me,” she huffs.

“Fine, as long as that’s with Marbh.” I lift my eyebrows. At a dragon.

She flicks her tail twice, then walks off, but at least she’s headed in the direction of the wardstone chamber safely below.

The halls of Basgiath teem with chaos as we pass by a line of gryphons and enter the guarded side door beneath the bell tower. My stomach drops. Wounded infantry and riders sit against the wall near this level’s entrance to the infirmary in various states of injury, but mostly burns, their cries of pain

filling the stone corridor as second- and third-year healers race from patient to patient.

“They ran out of beds twenty minutes ago,” Cat tells us quietly. “Infantry is the heaviest hit so far.”

“They usually are,” Xaden notes, keeping his gaze focused across the hall on the door that leads to the courtyard and off the dozens of wounded to our right.

We stop abruptly as a platoon of infantry races by. The insignia on their collars show them as first-years.

“Violet.” Cat grabs hold of my elbow, and I turn toward her, pausing as Xaden pushes open the door. “Tell your mother we’ll fight in the air if she can stop the rain, and if not, deploy us like the infantry. We have more experience fighting venin than almost anyone here, and gryphons are exceptionally quick on the ground.”

There’s only sheer determination in her brown eyes, so I nod. “I’ll tell her.” She drops her hand, and Xaden and I walk into the courtyard.

It’s pure fucking mayhem as we make our way through the lines of squads in dark blue being briefed by trembling second-years. It’s as though their ranks have broken and they’re cobbling together units with whoever hasn’t been injured.

Once we reach the center, we have a clear view of the leadership meeting going on just in front of the open gate.

“At least they could shut the damned gate!” one of the infantry cadets shouts at Xaden and me as we pass.

“Shutting the gate isn’t going to help you,” Xaden replies, pointing left to the dead body of a wyvern poking through the partially demolished roofline. “Even if they were on foot, the five seconds it will take for them to get through isn’t worth losing the necessary egress.”

I shoot the second-year a sympathetic look and follow Xaden out. “You could be a little…”

“Nicer? Softer?” he counters. “Kinder? How the hell is that going to help them?”

He’s not wrong.

“Hey,” a second-year in dark blue says from a squad on the right, her gaze flicking over my shoulder.

“I’m sorry, but he’s right. Shutting the gate isn’t going to help.” I say it as gently as I can.

“That’s not why I stopped you.” She points behind me. “There’s a scribe

chasing you down.”

I turn to see Jesinia jogging toward me in the rain, her hand hidden beneath her robes.

She’s keeping the journal dry.

“See if you can talk her into getting somewhere safe,” Xaden suggests. “In the meantime, I’ll start picking the fight without you.” He walks into the thirty-footthick archway that serves as Basgiath’s gate, crossing under the first portcullis and continuing on, immediately gaining the attention of my mother, General Melgren, and three of his aides standing at the edge of the second portcullis. The tails of their dragons swing just past them, forming a wall half the height of the fortress itself, even more in the case of Codagh.

“You should be—” I start signing to Jesinia, then drop my hands when I realize there’s nowhere safe for her to be.

She grasps my elbow with her free hand and pulls me into the archway, under the portcullis. Leaving the journal within the robes, she pulls her other hand free to sign. “I think I found the difference between the two, but I think Lyra’s journal is the lie.”

“What did you find?” I sign, keeping my back turned toward Melgren and raising my shields, blocking everyone out, even Tairn and Andarna.

“I think it’s a seven.” She lifts her brows at me. “But it can’t be.” “I don’t understand.” I shake my head. “Seven what?”

“That’s the only difference between the two journals. I thought at first maybe it meant runes, that we’d mistranslated that part, since there are seven runes on the wardstone in Aretia,” she signs, two lines furrowing in her forehead. “But I’ve checked and double-checked.”

“Show me.”

She nods, then pulls Lyra’s journal free and flips to the middle, tapping a symbol in the middle of the page and handing it to me, freeing her hands.

“That symbol there, it’s a seven. But Warrick’s says six, remember.” My heart sinks, and I nod slowly.

She has to be wrong.

“This reads, ‘The breath of life of the seven combined and set the stone ablaze in an iron flame.’”

Shoulders drooping, I sigh. Seven dragons is impossible. There are only six dens: black, blue, green, orange, brown, and red.

I hand her the journal. “Then maybe it’s not a seven. Maybe you mistranslated?”

She shakes her head, flipping to the very first page of the journal, then gives it back. “Here.” She taps the symbols, then lifts her hands. “‘Here is recorded the story of Lyra of the First Six.’” She taps the six, then turns the pages to the previous spot in the middle. “Seven.”

My lips part. Shit. Shit. Shit.

“They’re close,” she signs. “But that’s a seven. And there are seven circles on the wardstone in Aretia. Seven runes. Seven,” she repeats that last word, as if I could have possibly misunderstood.

Seven. Thoughts spin in my head too quickly to grab ahold of just one. “This journal has to be…wrong,” she signs when I remain silent.

I close the book and hand it to her. “Thank you. You should go to the infirmary. Sawyer is there, and if we—”

She shoves the journal into her robes and begins signing before I finish. “Why is Sawyer in the infirmary?” Her eyes fly wide.

“A wyvern took his leg.” She inhales swiftly.

“Go. If we evacuate the wounded, Maren said she’d watch over him, so if we evacuate, that’s the safest place for you to be. She’ll get you both out.”

Jesinia nods. “Be safe.” “You, too.”

She picks up her robes and sprints across the courtyard, cutting toward the southernmost door.

My head swims as I turn toward leadership gathered at the end of the archway and begin walking.

Could it mean a gryphon? Is that what it meant by six and the one? No. If a gryphon contributed to the wards, flier magic would work within the boundaries. But there aren’t seven breeds of dragon—

I stumble, catching myself with a hand along the stone wall, while my brain trips down the path that makes the only sense. Even if that path is ludicrous.


Holy shit.

I immediately shut the thoughts down before anyone connected to me can break through my shields and catch me thinking them.

“Absolutely not,” Xaden snaps at Melgren, who stands between two of his aides.

I put myself in the middle of my mother and Xaden.

“You think cadets will be able to defend all this?” Colonel Panchek gesticulates wildly at the air as a Green Clubtail—

My heart seizes as Teine takes down the last remaining wyvern in their sector. The gray carcass tumbles from the sky and lands somewhere to the northeast, behind the line of dragons.

“What are you doing here?” Mom asks me as my gaze drifts upward to the line of wyvern hovering in the distance. Up until now, we’ve been wounded, but they’re undeniably the kill shot, and in the center of their line rests a gaping hole, as if they’re waiting for someone.

“She’s never far from him,” Melgren quips.

Those wyvern are waiting just like the dark wielder implied, and my stomach churns at the thought of who they’re waiting for.

“We’re not taking Tairn and Sgaeyl to defend the Vale,” Xaden announces, folding his arms over his chest. “They already have First and Second Wings, plus every unbonded dragon.”

Sgaeyl and Tairn land to the right, near the tower that leads to Parapet, and all I can do is hope Andarna isn’t hiding over there with them, since I

don’t dare lower my shields to check. For the first time, I’m the one holding what might be the ultimate secret.

“You’re the reason I can’t plan effectively,” General Melgren snaps at Xaden. “You’re the reason I didn’t even see this battle occurring.” He tries to look down his hawkish nose at Xaden, but he’s at least an inch shorter.

“You’re welcome for flying to your aid,” Xaden replies, earning a sneer. “The Vale is the only thing that matters,” Mom interrupts, shifting

slightly so her shoulder is between Melgren and me. “The Archives are already sealed. The rest of the fortress can be rebuilt.”

“You’re going to abandon it,” Xaden says softly, using that cold, menacing tone that used to scare the shit out of me. From the way Panchek steps back, it hasn’t lost its edge.

Their silence is damning. My gaze jumps from face to face, looking for someone—anyone—to argue.

“They can launch that line at any moment.” Melgren points to the waiting horde. “We have over sixty injured pairs, be it dragon or rider that’s wounded. That horde right there will take us as spread out as we are now.”

“Then why not move every cadet to the Vale?” Xaden challenges.

Melgren narrows his beady eyes. “You might lead a revolution, Riorson, but you know nothing about winning a war.”

At least he called it a revolution and not a rebellion.

“You’re using them as a distraction.” Xaden drops his arms. “A delaying tactic. They’ll die while those in the Vale have time to prepare. Prepare for what, exactly?”

My jaw drops. “You can’t do that.” I pivot, putting myself in front of Mom. “You won’t need to. Brennan has mended the wardstone.”

“Even Brennan can’t mend magic, Cadet Sorrengail.” There’s no give, no room to stray from the course in her eyes.

“No,” I admit. “But he doesn’t have to. If the stone is mended, it could hold power. We could still raise the wards. I know how.”

A curious caress of shimmering shadow slides down my shields, but I don’t let him in.

“You weren’t entirely successful in Aretia, were you?” she asks, lowering her voice so only I hear. “‘Could’ isn’t good enough.” That part is for a wider audience, and the rebuke heats my cheeks.

“I can do it,” I whisper back just as quietly, then raise my voice to be heard. “If you put Xaden and me in the Vale, you leave the wardstone unprotected, and that is the only solution to keep everyone on this field alive today.”

“You don’t know if it works after being mended,” she says slowly, like there’s any chance I might misunderstand her. “And even if it did—”

“Their leader has arrived,” Tairn tells me, and by the way every rider’s face pivots skyward—including mine—he’s not the only dragon who’s noticed.

There, in the center of the horde, now flies a wyvern slightly larger than the others, bearing a rider in royal blue. The pitch of my stomach says that if he comes closer, I’ll recognize his dark, thinning hair and the annoyed purse of his lips, even if logic argues that I won’t, that it’s just a fucking dream.

My heart rate soars as fear soaks into my skin, colder than the rain and melting snow around us.

“As you can see,” Mom says, tearing her gaze from the horde. “It’s too late for wards now.”

“It’s not!” I argue.

“Cadet—” Mom starts.

“I can get them up,” I promise, putting myself in her way when she tries to sidestep me. “If they can hold power, then I can get the wards up!”

“Cadet,” Mom snaps, her cheeks turning ruddy.

“At least see if the stone can hold power before you sentence all of us to death!” I push.

“Violet!” Mom shouts.

“Listen to me!” I yell right back. “For once in your life, listen to what I’m telling you!”

She draws her head back.

I forge on. “For once in my life, trust me. Have faith in me. I can get the wards up.”

There it is, the slight narrowing of her eyes that says I have her attention. “If we raise the wards, every wyvern on this field is dead. Every dark

wielder is powerless—” I swallow, thinking of Jack. “Nearly powerless. Name one other weapon capable of managing that feat. Just go down there with me and see if it will hold power. Help me imbue it,” I plead with my mother. “If it won’t hold power, then I’ll do whatever you want, but I can do this, General. I know how.”

“Enough of this. We’re wasting time.” Melgren waves me off, then walks toward Codagh, his aides following after.

“Wait!” my mother calls out, and my heart stops.

“I’m sorry, General?” Melgren snaps, pausing to face us just outside the archway.

“This is my school.” Mom lifts her chin. “I said wait.” “It’s my army!” he barks. “And there is no waiting!”

“Technically, half of it is your army,” Xaden says, his gaze pinned on the wyvern horde. “The other half is mine. And seeing that you had no problem having my father executed, I have no problem leaving you to die if you refuse her help.”

Melgren stares at Xaden, the color slowly draining from his face.

“That’s what I thought.” Xaden sticks out his hand. “You want to walk with me, Violet?”

Something in his tone—maybe it’s resignation—makes me twine my fingers with his, following him as he walks out of the archway, past Melgren, and toward the dragons.

“Where are you going? They’re about to attack—” Melgren starts.

“I’m buying her the time she needs,” Xaden answers, and my stomach sinks.

“And they won’t attack. Not yet. They’re still waiting.” “What the fuck for?” Melgren snaps.

Xaden’s hand tightens around mine. “Me.”

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