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Iron Flame: Part 1 – Chapter 35

The only signet more terrifying than an inntinnsic is a truth-sayer. And yet we let them live.


I blink slowly, my vision coming into focus with all the urgency of a snail. Dull, throbbing pressure radiates forward from the back of my head, and the mass of gray clears slightly, revealing stones set in a spiral pattern—a patch of them charred from smoke. A ceiling?

“That’s not our concern,” a man says, his voice unfamiliar and raspy. “We follow orders.”

Fear-laced adrenaline charges through me, but I lock my muscles tight, forcing myself to remain as still as possible so I can get a grip on what the fuck is happening.

“It is if she finds out,” another voice—this one female—replies.

It smells like wet moss and iron, and the air is cool but thick. We’re underground. A steady dripping sound fills the silence.

“She’s in Calldyr. We have a week until she’s scheduled to return,” the raspy-voiced one says.

And I’m sitting; that’s what’s digging into the base of my skull—the back of a chair. The weight across my wrists and ankles is familiar. I’m strapped in, just like assessment.

“Tairn—” I reach out, but the connection is foggy, and my power doesn’t rise.

The lemonade. The satchel. Nolon.

Fuck. I’ve been caught.

“Ahh, there she is.” A grizzled face appears over mine, and the man smiles, revealing three missing teeth. “Major? Your prisoner is awake!” He retreats, and I lift my head, taking in my surroundings.

The prison cell is wedge-shaped, and a door that looks exactly like the one in the interrogation chamber makes up the narrowest portion, but this cell isn’t for instructional purposes. My jailer wears infantry blue, which means this must be the brig.

I assume the wooden shelf at my right is meant to be a bed, and at least there’s a toilet on the other side of that. Fear pulses through my veins at the sight of the unwashed, bloodstained walls, and I quickly look away, scanning the rest of the cell as my head clears. Nora, the woman who always dumps my bag, leans against a wooden table, her arms folded, and her face puckers into lines of what I think might be concern as the door opens beside her.

The smile on Major Varrish’s face forms a pit in my stomach as he enters.

Oh gods. The others. Are they here? Have they been hurt? A boulder lodges in my throat, making it nearly impossible to draw a full breath.

“Out,” he tells the other man, who scurries like a spider into the main chamber but doesn’t shut the door behind him, giving me a glimpse of a desk covered in my black-hilted daggers before Varrish blocks the view. “I promised you I’d try your way once,” Varrish calls over his shoulder.

Terror expands the pressure in my throat. I can’t reach Tairn or Xaden. Can’t call on my signet or even my knife skills, since my hands are bound.

I’m alone and fucking defenseless.

Nolon walks in, his steps sluggish, his eyes heavy with sadness. “We just need you to answer a few questions, Violet.”

“You drugged me.” My voice cracks. “I trusted you. I’ve always trusted you.”

“Clear this up quickly and we can return to trusting each other,” Nolon says. “Let’s start with why you stole Lyra’s journal?” He reaches behind Nora and brings out the book.

Every interrogation technique I’ve been taught deserts me, and I stare… just stare at the journal, my mind scrambling for a way out of this when there clearly is none.

“I wanted to be wrong,” he says gently. “But Markham had sounded the alarm that the royal wards within the king’s private library had been breached, and then I saw you standing in the courtyard with a scribe’s satchel—”

“Which is common to transport books from the Archives,” I counter.

Damn it. We were stupid for not assuming tripping the wards would alert Markham.

“And had that been the case, you would have woken up in the infirmary with a headache and my most sincere apologies.” Nolon holds up the scarred leather journal, the very key to protecting Aretia. “But you carried this.”

“We’re not here to argue that point.” Varrish watches me with rapt fascination. “Answer my questions, and we’ll let you go sleep that headache off before class tomorrow. Lie—even once—and it’s going to get messy.”

So, it’s already Sunday.

“Three questions.” Nolon shoots a stern look in Varrish’s direction. “We want to know how you did it, who you did it with, and most importantly, why.”

The boulder in my throat loosens, and I fill my lungs completely, willing my panic to subside. They don’t know who, which means no one else is chained up down here. Not Xaden, or Rhiannon, or Aaric, or any of the others. It’s just me. Being alone just turned into a blessing.

And I’m not defenseless. I’m still in full possession of my mind.

“Let’s start with how you breached a royal ward,” Varrish suggests.

“It would be impossible for me to breach a royal ward, seeing as I’m not royal.” I lift my chin and mentally prepare for the worst.

“She’s telling the truth,” Nora says, tilting her head to the side. “My signet detects lies. Tell one, and I’ll know.”

My heart jolts.

Truth it is, then. After this is over, I’ll have to explain my answers—or lack thereof—to my mother. Every single word matters.

“Violet, please,” Nolon pleads, setting the journal on the table. “Just explain. Was it an unsanctioned squad challenge? Some kind of dare between second-years? They’re still trying to ascertain exactly what’s missing. Help us. Tell us, and this will go much easier for you.”

Trying to ascertain. They can’t get in.

“You’re jumping to the why part.” Varrish rolls his eyes. “Honestly, Nolon, this is why you’ve never been suited to interrogation.” His pale gaze locks on mine. “How?”

“How can you assume that book isn’t a reproduction if you haven’t verified the original is even missing?” I ask Nolon.

Nolon glances sideways at Varrish. “Markham said the coverlet wasn’t disturbed.”

“And yet we have the fucking journal.” Varrish walks a slow circle around me. “Is it a reproduction?”

He’s trying to catch me in a lie.

“I wouldn’t know, seeing as I haven’t examined it.” There hadn’t been time.

“Truth,” Nora rules.

Varrish stops in front of me, and I look straight into those pale, soulless eyes. “I’m guessing you have no proof, Major Varrish, because none of you can cross a royal ward, and no one is volunteering to tell the king that there’s been an alarm, false or otherwise. Please, let me remind you, the last time someone accused me of lying without proof, they found themselves assigned to the farthest outpost Luceras has to offer.”

“Ah, you mean Aetos.” He doesn’t even flinch. “No worries. I’ll ferret out the evidence he needs while I have you here under my supervision, since you’re proving to be combatant instead of helpful, as Nolon had hoped. Grady is such a stickler for rules, so our last encounter wasn’t nearly as fruitful as I would have liked.” He crouches, looking at me like I’m a shiny new toy he can’t wait to break. “Who stole that book for you?” He looks pointedly at my hands. “Because we both know you didn’t.”

Selective truth. That’s all I have within my arsenal to protect my friends.

“I alone put that particular book into its bag.”

“She’s telling the truth,” Nora remarks.

I glance from Varrish to Nolon. “And I’m done answering your questions. If you want to put me on trial, then call a quorum of wingleaders and do so according to the rules put forth in the Codex.”

Varrish stands slowly, then backhands me. Pain erupts in my cheek as my head snaps to the side under the force of the blow.

“Major!” Nolon shouts.

“Nora, order an immediate formation and check the hands of every cadet in the quadrant,” Varrish says as I blink through the sting. “Nolon, you’re dismissed.”

I breathe deeply, preparing for the coming pain as Varrish rolls up the sleeves of his uniform. I try to focus on a misshapen brick in the wall, try like hell to dissociate from my body.

No matter what happens in this room, they can’t change the fact that Xaden got out with Warrick’s journal. Brennan will have what he needs to raise Aretia’s wards. Whatever agony Varrish has planned will be worth it.

Violence, remember it’s only the body that’s fragile. You are unbreakable. I cling to Xaden’s words.

“I’ll call you when you’re needed,” Varrish promises, waving Nolon off.

When he’s needed to mend me.

“Don’t worry. I’ll start small,” Varrish tells me. “And you have all the power here, Cadet Sorrengail. This stops as soon as you talk.”

I cry out when he dislocates the first finger.

Then scream when he breaks it.

Drip. Drip. Drip.

I pretend the sound is rain against my window, pretend the hard, unforgiving wood under my cheek is Xaden’s chest, that the arm bent at an unnatural angle in front of me, throbbing in time with my pulse, belongs to someone else.

“Sleep if you can.” The suggestion is soft, the voice so achingly familiar that I squeeze my undamaged eye shut.

You’re not really here. You’re a hallucination from pain and dehydration. A mirage.

“Maybe,” Liam says, and I open my eye just enough to see him sit on the floor beside me. He pulls his knees up, resting his elbow on the side of the bunk just beneath my fractured arm. “Or maybe Malek sent me as a kindness.”

Malek doesn’t do kindness. Nor does he allow souls to wander about. Kudos to my brain; he’s an excellent hallucination. He looks exactly as he had the last time I saw him, dressed in flight leathers and wearing a smile that makes my heart ache.

“I’m not wandering, Violet. I’m exactly where I need to be.”

Everything hurts. Unending pain threatens to pull me into the blackness again, but unlike the last two times, I fight to stay conscious. It’s the first moment I’ve been alone in hours, and I no longer fear the chair in the middle of the room.

Now I know more bones break when Varrish takes me out of it.

“I know,” Liam says gently. “But you’re staying strong. I’m so proud of you.”

Of course that’s what my subconscious would say—exactly what I need to hear.

I run my tongue over the split in my lip and taste blood. Varrish hasn’t taken a blade to me, but my skin has split from his blows in so many places that I feel like one giant, open wound. The last time I moved, my uniform crunched from dried blood.

“Bring in her squad,” Nora suggests from the antechamber. “She’ll break as soon as you start on them.”

Liam’s jaw flexes, and fear knots my empty stomach.

“She didn’t during assessment,” Varrish responds. Gods, I wish I didn’t know his voice. “And bringing them in means they’ll know what’s happened, and given the relic winding around Imogen Cardulo’s arm, I doubt she’ll be willing to wipe their memories. Killing them presents an entirely different set of issues, too. You’re sure none of the cadets have hand injuries?”

“I inspected them all myself,” Nora replies. “Devera and Emetterio are asking where she is, as is the rest of her squad. She’s missed class today.”

It’s Monday.

I reach for Tairn, but the bond is still fogged. Right, because they forced that solution down my throat once again between shattering my arm and snapping my ankle. He didn’t even have to take off my boots to make that happen.

But it’s only my body they’ve broken. I haven’t spoken a single word.

“That means you’ve been here two days,” Liam says.

It will be another five before Xaden realizes I’m missing. No doubt they’re monitoring correspondence to make sure someone doesn’t alert him. He can’t react, Liam. If he does, he’ll risk everything.

“You think he’s not already losing his shit?” A corner of Liam’s mouth rises into the cocky smirk I’ve missed so much. “I’d bet he already knows. Sgaeyl will have felt Tairn’s panic. That dragon of yours might not be able to reach you this deep under Basgiath, but Xaden’s going to rip this place apart brick by brick. You just have to survive.”

He can’t risk the movement. He won’t. Xaden’s priorities have always been clear, and damn if that’s not one of the things I love about him.

“He will.”

The door opens, but I don’t have the energy or the ability to rise, to turn my head or even lift a hand. My heart jumps, pounding like it sees the chance to flee this hellscape of a body. I don’t know how to tell it that Mira’s armor will keep it safe long after it wishes it could just stop.

Varrish lowers himself to my eye level, no more than a foot away from Liam. “You must be in so much pain. It can all stop. Maybe Nolon was right. Let’s forget how you stole the book. You’re clearly not going to give up your accomplices. But I need to know why. Why would you need a journal from one of the First Six? I’ve been reading it. Interesting history. What are you trying to ward, Sorrengail?”

He waits, but I keep my words to myself. He’s way too fucking close.

“We could just stop dancing around each other and have a true discussion,”

he offers. “Surely you have questions I could answer about why it is we don’t involve ourselves in Poromish issues. Is that what this is? Righteous indignation? We could have an equal exchange of information, since we both know it wasn’t gryphons that killed your friend’s dragon.”

I startle, and pain washes over me, fresh and violent.

“Don’t fall for it.” Liam shakes his head. “You know he’s trying to play you.”

“But how much do you know?” Varrish asks softly, like it’s a kindness. “And what have you been doing with the marked ones? We’ve been watching them for years, of course, but until Cadet Aetos gave you up, all we’d had to go on was speculation. But then you didn’t come back to Basgiath. No outposts reported you seeking a healer. So, I’m going to rephrase my earlier question. Where did you go, Cadet Sorrengail? Where are you trying to ward?”

This is so much bigger than me stealing the book.

“Gods, you’re good. Or you’re in too much pain to react.” Varrish tilts his head, reminding me of an owl as he studies me. “Do you know what my signet is, Cadet Sorrengail? Why it is I’m so good in this room? It’s classified, but we’re all friends here, aren’t we?”

I stare at him but don’t reply.

“I don’t see people.” He tilts his head and studies me. “I see their weaknesses. It’s a great advantage in battle. Honestly, you surprised me when we met. From everything I’d heard about the youngest Sorrengail, I expected to look at you and see pain, broken bones, or maybe shame for never living up to Mom’s expectations.” He skims his finger over the obvious break in my forearm but doesn’t apply pressure. The threat is enough to make my chest tighten. “But I saw…nothing. Someone taught you to shield, and I’ll admit you’re very good at it.” He leans closer. “Do you want to know what I see now that we’ve cut you off from your power?”

Hatred wells within me and I hope he sees it.

“By Dunne, must I carry all of the conversation? ‘Yes, of course I want to know,’” he says, raising his voice in mock imitation. “Well, Cadet Sorrengail, your weaknesses are the people you love. So many people to choose from. Squad Leader Matthias and the rest of your squad, your sister, your dragons.” A twisted smile curves his mouth. “Lieutenant Riorson.”

My heartbeat skips.

“Hold steady, Violet,” Liam says.

“She’s triggered,” Nora notes from the doorway.

“I know,” Varrish replies. “And I bet you’re thinking he’ll be the one who comes for you, aren’t you?” He admires the bruises on my forearm like they’re artwork. “That come Saturday, when you don’t show in Samara, he’ll come looking, even if it means violating his leave policy. You’re pinning your hopes that he’ll break the rules for you. That he’ll save you, since your own mother hasn’t lifted a finger for you.”

My throat moves even though I’m too dehydrated to swallow.

“He won’t wait until Saturday,” Liam promises.

“That’s what I’m counting on.” Varrish nods. “I waited all year for you to break a rule so I could question you under Codex. Your mom’s a real rule follower that way. But you have no idea the joy it gives me to know that Fen Riorson’s son will break Codex by abandoning his post to come to your aid, that he’ll be strapped to this chair next. And he will give me the answers I seek.”

Wait. What?

“Shit. He’s not just questioning you. He’s setting a trap for Xaden.” Liam tenses.

My heart starts to pound.

“You have so much power here, Sorrengail. You alone can save Lieutenant Riorson from what awaits him should he arrive. Tell me what I want to know, and I won’t hurt him.”

For a heartbeat, I’m tempted. The thought of Xaden being tortured makes my hand curl and my nails catch on the rough grain of the wooden slab.

“Where are you trying to ward? What are the marked ones up to?”

“Hold the line, Vi.” Liam rests his hand against my side, and gods it feels so real. “Talking would lead to the deaths of every living thing on this Continent. If they had anything on Xaden, he’d already be in custody. They’re not going to hurt him. They can’t.”

Logically, I know that, but emotionally…

“No? You’re sure? You can save him. Right here. Right now. Because I think he’ll come, and when he does, I will break him—and I’ll make you watch,” Varrish promises in a whisper. “But don’t worry. You’ll be screaming your secrets in no time. Of course, by then I won’t need them. I’ll have who I really want.”

His gaze drops to my neck, as if he can see my pulse skyrocketing.

“Ahh, you see it now, don’t you?” Varrish grins. “I’m sure you think he’s indestructible, but let me assure you, I was lucky enough to glimpse the most powerful rider of your generation fumble his shields like a novice once. It was for less than a second, but that was all I needed to see what it would take to shatter him. We’ll have all the information we need in a matter of days. You’re not the prize, Sorrengail. You’re the tool.”

Fuck him.

“Does Solas enjoy hiding?” My voice croaks, and I cough.

He blinks but quickly masks his surprise.

“Just because you’ve blocked my ability to talk to Tairn doesn’t mean he doesn’t know exactly what you’ve done to me.” My lip splits again when I force a smile. “You’re hunting Xaden. But Tairn is hunting Solas. You’re the weaker on both counts. I might die in this chamber, but I promise you will.

“Just because I can’t kill you without losing my target doesn’t mean I won’t shatter you over and over until he arrives. We’re going to have fun, you and I.” He stands, then brushes his hands on the thighs of his uniform before walking out. I hear his faint words through the door: “Call Nolon in. We need to start fresh.”

But Varrish is wrong. Xaden won’t come. He’ll choose the safety of the revolution. I’m now one of the people he can’t save. I just have to hope that everyone is wrong, that he’ll survive my death.

“Don’t leave me,” I whisper to Liam. I don’t care that I’m far gone enough to hallucinate, that my brain is using Liam as a crutch as long as he stays, as long as I’m not alone.

“I won’t. I swear.”

Drip. Drip. Drip. I lose track of the hours, the beatings, the questions I refuse to answer.

Nolon visits twice, or maybe it’s three times.

Life is varying degrees of pain, but Liam never leaves. He’s there every time I open my eyes, watching, talking me through the torture, holding my sanity together while simultaneously proving it’s already left.

At least once a day, they chain me into the chair and force the serum down my throat, blocking me from Tairn. I eat the food they provide because survival matters most, and I sleep after each mending session, only to wake and be broken again and again.

My ribs are cracked thanks to a well-placed kick, and my left arm snaps in the same exact place Varrish broke it the first time, which tells me that not only am I not at full strength, Nolon isn’t, either.

“We could bring in Jack Barlowe if this doesn’t work.” Nora’s voice rises, bringing me fully awake from where I’ve dozed off in the chair. “Gods know he’s been waiting for retribution.”

“Tempting,” Varrish replies. “I’m sure he’d be happy to find new and inventive ways to motivate her, but we can’t trust him not to kill her. Can’t trust that kid for anything, really, can we? Too unpredictable.”

“Still can’t believe that fucker survived,” Liam mutters from where he stands leaned against the wall to the right of the door.

Gods, I’m sore and swollen at the broken places, and discolored on the bits of skin I can see. Everything hurts. I’m not even sure I’m me anymore as much as I am pain encased in a failing body.

But Rhiannon isn’t being put through this, or Ridoc, or Sawyer, or Imogen, or Quinn. Everyone I care about is safe. That’s what I grasp onto.

“You know, Sloane hates me,” I whisper.

“Sloane can be tough.” Liam shoots me an apologetic half smile. “You’re doing a good job.”

“Yeah, I’m a great role model.” It’s all I can do to keep from rolling my eyes.

“You asked to see me, sir? Down here? There have to be a dozen guards in the stairwell.”

That voice. Fear slides down my spine, leaving chills in its wake as Liam’s head jerks toward the door.

Dain. I’m so fucked. We all are.

“I did,” Varrish responds. “I need your help. Navarre needs your help.”

“What can I do?”

I twist against the straps that hold me captive, but their buckles hold strong. “Stay calm,” Liam whispers, like any of them can hear him.

“We had a breach of security this week, and classified documents were stolen. We caught the perpetrator and prevented the loss of intelligence, but the prisoner…” There’s a dramatic pause. “It’s blatantly obvious by connection that this rider is working with what we suspect to be a second rebellion, intent on destroying Navarre. For the safety of every civilian within our wards, I need this prisoner’s memories, wingleader. You must extract the truth, or our very way of life will be compromised.”

Well, when he puts it that way. I pull against my bonds again, sending ricochets of agony through my nervous system. I have no shields. No way to block him out.

Everyone in Aretia is going to die, and it will be my fault.

“I’m going to warn you,” Varrish says gently. “The prisoner’s identity may come as a shock.” The door swings open before I can fully prepare myself.

Varrish walks in, leaving Dain standing in the doorway, his eyes wide as his gaze sweeps over me, lingering on my swollen, purple-splotched hands, bound to the arms of the chair, and the face I’m sure matches them. He can’t even see the worst of it under my uniform, the broken bones and contusions.


“Please help me,” I whisper, even knowing I’m begging a Dain that no longer exists, the one I knew before he crossed the parapet, and not the hardened third-year in front of me.

“You’ve been torturing her for five days?” Dain accuses Varrish.

Five days? It’s only Thursday?

“Since she stole Lyra’s journal from the king’s private library?” Varrish sounds bored. “Absolutely. She might have been a childhood friend, Aetos, but we both know where her loyalties now lie—with Riorson and the war he’s planning against us. She wants to bring down the wards.”

“That’s not true!” I mean to shout but it comes out more as a whimper, my voice hoarse from days of screaming. Varrish has twisted everything. “I would never hurt civilians. Dain, you know—”

“I don’t know shit about you anymore,” Dain counters, his face twisting in anger.

“There’s a war out there,” I tell him, desperate to break through before he breaks me. “Poromish civilians are dying, and we’re not doing anything to help. We’re just watching it happen, Dain.”

“You think we should involve ourselves in their civil war?” Dain argues.

My shoulders slump. “I think you’ve been lied to for so long that you won’t recognize the truth even when it hits you in the face.”

“I could say the same for you.” Dain looks toward Varrish. “You’re sure she was trying to take down the wards?”

“I’ve had the journal sent back to the Archives for safekeeping, but yes. The book she stole gave detailed instructions on how the wards were built and could be used as a map to unravel them.” Varrish clasps Dain’s shoulder. “I know this is hard to hear, but people aren’t always who we want them to be.”

Liam pushes off the wall and walks around the pair, coming to my side and crouching down. “I don’t think you’re going to be able to stop this.”

Me either.

“Try not to be angry with her,” Varrish tells Dain, his expression shifting to sympathetic. “We can’t always help who we fall in love with, can we?”

Dain stiffens.

“Riorson pulled her into something she couldn’t possibly understand. You know that. You saw it happen last year.” He sighs. “I didn’t want to have to show you this, but”—he pulls my alloy-imbedded dagger from his own sheath—“she was carrying this, too. That metal you see is what powers the wards. We think they’ve been smuggling them out to wherever they’re planning to stage this war from, weakening our wards little by little.”

“Is that true?” Dain’s gaze flies to mine.

I spot Nora leaning against the doorjamb and shudder. “I can explain. It’s not how he’s portraying it—”

“I don’t need you to explain,” Dain snarls. “I’ve been asking you to talk to me for months, and now I see why you won’t. Why you’re adamant I never touch you. You’re scared I’ll see what you’ve been hiding.” He stalks forward, and I shrink back in the chair.

Xaden, forgive me.

“Remember your ethics, Cadet,” Varrish instructs. “Especially given your attachment to Cadet Sorrengail. Search like you’ve been practicing but focus on the word ward.”

“Lieutenant Nora,” a voice calls from the antechamber. “All leadership is being ordered to assemble. There have been…incidents at the border.”

“By whose order?” Nora demands.

“General Sorrengail’s.”

“We’ll be there shortly,” Nora replies, waving him off.

“We might already be too late,” Varrish says, shaking his head. “Riorson deserted days ago, according to the reports we received this morning. We’re gathering the marked ones now.”

My breath seizes. He deserted. He could be safe in Aretia right now, raising the wards. But Imogen? Bodhi? Sloane? They’re the ones leadership is gathering.

Liam’s hand settles on my shoulder, steadying me. They’ll kill them all, and once they know about Aretia, they’ll hunt the rest. “He can search your memory,” Liam tells me. “But logic says he’ll have to muddle through what you’re thinking first.”

“What have you done, Violet?” Varrish asks. “Orchestrated another attack on an outpost? Find out what you can, Aetos. The safety of our kingdom depends on it. Time is of the essence.”

Dain’s eyes flare, and he lifts his hands.

“You killed Liam,” I blurt.

He pauses. “So you keep saying. But I only searched your memory to prove my father wrong, Violet, and all you did was prove him right. If the marked ones died betraying our kingdom, then they deserved what they got.”

“I hate you,” I whisper, the sound strangled as my eyes prickle and burn.

“She’s stalling,” Varrish snips. “Do it now. And if you see something you don’t understand, I’ll explain it once we know where their army is hiding. Just trust me that we are acting in the best interest of every citizen of Navarre. Our only goal is keeping them safe.”

Dain nods and reaches for me, hesitating at the last second. “She’s bruised everywhere.

“Show him what you want him to see,” Liam urges.

“She’s nothing more than a traitor,” Varrish retorts.

“Right.” Dain nods, and I close my eyes the second his fingers push in on my tender, aching temples.

They may have blocked me from my power, but that stems from Tairn. The control over my mind? That’s mine, and it’s all I have left.

Unlike last year, I feel Dain’s presence at the edge of my mind this time, right where my shields should be, and instead of recoiling from the assault, I grab hold of that presence and throw myself into the memory, dragging Dain with me.

“Do we have a riot nearby?” Liam asks.

Gravity shifts as I realize my worst nightmare is indeed a living, breathing monster.

Two legs. Not four. Wyvern.

They’d sent us here to die.

Venin with red veins distending from their eyes, killing helpless people.

Blue fire. Desiccated land. Soleil and Fuil falling.

We’ll never be able to smuggle enough weaponry out to make a difference.

They’ve kept us in the dark, erased our very history to avoid conflict, to keep us safe while innocent people die.

Liam— Gods…Liam. I dig my mental fingernails into Dain and hold him there, making him feel it with me again, the helplessness. The chest-crushing sorrow. The eye-blurring rage.

It’s been my honor. Liam’s last words to me.

My vengeance in the sky, fighting along Tairn’s back, armed with the only weapon that will kill the dark wielder doing her best to slay my dragon and end me.

The moment the dagger slides into my side, I stop pulling Dain and start shoving, screaming both physically and mentally, filling my head with every ounce of pain that’s been inflicted upon me in the last four days.

Dain gasps, and his hands fall from my temples.

I throw my eyes open, the sound of my scream still echoing in my ears as he draws back, horror etched on every line of his face.

“I’m here,” Liam promises. “And I still don’t regret it, Vi. Not one second.” Wetness tracks down my cheeks.

“Did you get what you wanted?” I manage to ask through my shredded vocal cords.

“You’re smuggling weapons,” Dain says slowly, searching my eyes. “Stealing our weapons to aid another kingdom?”

My stomach sinks at my complete, absolute failure.

Out of everything I showed him, that’s what he took?

I wrench my gaze from his to look at Liam, memorizing the lines of his face and those trademark blue eyes. “I’m so sorry I failed you.”

“You never failed me. Not once,” he whispers, shaking his head. “We pulled you into our war. If anyone’s sorry, it’s me.”

“As you should be.” Varrish sneers.

If Dain has conquered my memory, seen the weapons runs I’ve helped with, then he knows it all. A wave of hopelessness rolls over, stealing my resolve, my determination not to break. All I have left inside of me is pain, and that isn’t worth fighting for, not if I’ve just given up everything—everyone—that means anything to me.

“They want us now!” the man shouts from the antechamber.

“Varrish,” Nora prompts. “It’s a summons for all leadership.”

“What did you find?” Varrish turns to Dain, losing his composure. “Where are they staging from?”

“Give me that knife,” Dain demands, holding out his hand. “I want to compare it to the one I saw in the memory. The ones they’re stealing from us.”

“Just don’t kill her. We need to find and question Riorson first, use her as leverage.” Varrish hands my dagger over to Dain.

He glances over the weapon and nods. “This is the one. They’re taking them out by the dozen, arming the enemy. I saw everything.” Brown eyes meet mine. “There’s at least one drift involved.”

My heart plummets. He knows. He saw despite my best efforts.

They’ll question me again—keep me prisoner to lure Xaden, even—but they’ll never let me leave here alive. This place I called home, the halls I walked with my father, the Archives I worshipped alongside the gods, the field where I flew with Tairn and Andarna, the halls where I laughed with my friends, and the rooms where Xaden held me will be my tomb.

And the boy I used to climb trees with along its river will be my demise.

I sag, the last of the fight draining out of me in defeat.

“Good. Good. Now tell me where they are,” Varrish orders.

Dain grips the dagger in his left hand, spinning it so the blade runs parallel to his forearm as he brings it to my throat. “You should have trusted me, Violet.”

I don’t dare to even swallow as I hold the asshole’s gaze. I won’t die afraid.

“None of this would have happened if you’d just trusted me.” The hurt in his eyes only feeds my rage. How dare he look wounded. “And now, it’s too late.”

“Varrish!” Nora yells as shouts fill the antechamber.

Varrish turns toward her, and I feel the knife slip against my skin.

Dain is going to kill me.

“You’re all right.” Liam steadies my shoulder. “I’ll be right here. I’m not going to leave you.”

Tairn. Andarna. Gods, I hope they survive it. Xaden has to live. He just has to.

I love him.

I should have told him every day, been honest about my feelings even through the fights and the doubt.

Now instead of giving those feelings back to Xaden, they’ll die with me. My vision blurs, and tears streak down my cheeks, but I lift my chin.

Dain whips his arm back, and I wait for the forward surge, the cut, the pain, the flow of blood.

It doesn’t come.

Varrish staggers backward, holding his side, his eyes bulging as a roaring sound fills my ears. Dain brings the bloodied knife to the straps at my wrists, cutting one free, then the other. “I don’t know if we can fight our way out of here,” he says quickly, dropping down to cut my ankles free. “Can you move?”

What the fuck is happening?

“Aetos!” Varrish snarls, falling back against the wall, then sliding down the stone. He leaves behind a fresh trail of red.

“Violet!” Dain shouts, forcing something into my hand. “You have to move or we’re dead!”

I wrap the fingers of my unbroken hand around the familiar hilt as Dain draws the sword at his side, holding it at Nora’s throat when she lunges into the cell. “Let us pass, and you’ll live.”

He holds the blade steady and hooks his other arm behind my back as I try to stand, holding me upright when my legs try to fail. They’re not newly broken since Nolon’s last visit, that I can remember, but I whimper at the pressure against my cracked ribs and the nausea as the room seems to spin.

“I make no such promises.” The low, menacing threat weakens my knees a second before a hand with a dagger reaches around Nora’s throat, slicing without hesitation.

She falls, a torrent of blood flowing from the gaping wound in her neck.

I look up into the wrath of Dunne in the form of gold-flecked onyx eyes.


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