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Iron Flame: Part 2 – Chapter 47

Defeating a dark wielder begins with knowing where they rank in age and experience. Initiates have reddish rings to their eyes that come and go depending on how often they drain. Asims’ eyes fluctuate in degrees of red, and their veins distend when riled. Sages’—those responsible for initiates—eyes are permanently red, their veins perpetually distended toward their temples, expanding with age. Mavens—their generals—have never been captured for examination.


So much for thinking I have the advantage.

Her eyes flare, like she’s come to the same conclusion as we circle each other, and then they narrow in a way that makes my stomach clench. Devera may have set the rules, but something tells me Cat is about to break them.

“Does it bother you?” she asks, lowering her voice as she raises her hands. “Knowing he taught me first? That I had him first?”

“Not at all, since I have him now.” I swallow the sour jealousy that rises with the burn of bile in my throat.

“Really?” She jabs, and I weave. “The thought that I know what he tastes like?” She throws another combination that I block, then retreats as if it was nothing but a test. “How his weight feels above me?”

I will not vomit on this mat. I refuse.

“Nope.” But shit if that picture doesn’t play out in my mind as vividly as a nightmare.

Her hands on his skin, her mouth on the curling lines of his rebellion relic. Envy and anger roar in my ears, dulling my senses, and I blink rapidly to clear the image, but heat prickles my skin as power rises within me.

She comes at me again, and I throw my forearm up in a block, but she shifts unexpectedly, and when I block for the cross, she nails me with a left hook.

Pain explodes in my cheek, right on the bone, and I stagger backward, touching my face reflexively to check for blood, but she hasn’t split the skin.

“I think it does bother you,” she says softly as we circle again. “Seeing me here, where I belong. Sleeping right down the hall. I bet it keeps you awake at night, knowing I’m a better match for him in every way, counting the seconds he tires of your frail excuse for a body and comes back to the woman who knows exactly what he likes and how he likes it.”

Every word she speaks raises my temperature, but I refuse to take the bait, so I’m ready when she charges forward this time, twisting as she jabs for my face. I manage to counter, landing my blow in the same location she’d hit me.

Pain shoots up my wrist, but I’m happy for the sting.

“You know what bothers me?” I ask as she bounces back on her toes, cursing when the back of her hand swipes at her cheek and comes away bloody. “That you’re obsessed with fighting over a man.” Rage fuels my movements when I go on the attack, but she’s ready for every combination I have.

Because they’re all fucking his.

“You going to do something about this?” I hear someone ask from outside the haze of anger that’s slowing my reaction time.

“She wouldn’t want me to.” The answer comes from the edge of the mat as Cat lunges toward me, and I’m too focused on her hands to block her feet when they sweep mine out from under me.

I’m airborne for a heartbeat, and then my back hits the mat, rattling my bones and stealing my breath.

Cat follows me down, leaning her forearm against my throat and cutting off my air supply as she leans in, her mouth right next to my ear. “You seem angry, Violet. Are you just now realizing you’re nothing special? That you’re just a convenient placeholder he can fuck?” Her laugh is low and cruel. “I know how good he is. I’m the one who taught him that little trick he does with his fingers. You know, the one where he curls—”

I see red and throw every ounce of my rage into the punch I deliver to the side of her ribs, right where Xaden taught me to stab, and then I draw back and do it again, savoring the dull sound of the crack of her ribs and the jarring pain that shoots through my hand, along my wrist, and up my arm because I know I just delivered ten times worse.

She cries out, falling off me to her uninjured side, and I gasp, filling my lungs before hurtling my body after hers, rising onto my knees and slamming my fist into the side of her face with a satisfying thud before she can recover. Now she has my mark on both sides.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” I snap. “It is not my fault that he doesn’t love you!”

“Of course he doesn’t!” She grabs hold of my arm and rolls with astonishing speed, twisting it behind my back.

White-hot agony streaks through me, making my mouth water.

“He’s not capable of loving anyone,” she hisses in my ear. “You think I’m so petty that I’d attack another woman over love?”

“Yes.” I force the word out through gritted teeth as she shoves me downward, controlling me by the arm she could easily break, the shoulder she’s an inch away from dislocating in this position. The side of my face smashes into the mat.

Think. I have to think. But fuck, all I can do is feel. Anger and envy pound through my veins with every heartbeat, strangling logic until I’m nothing but rage.

“You’re too short-sighted for him,” she says quietly, like she’s afraid of being heard. “He thinks ahead, just like me. Gods, do you even know why he didn’t kill you that first year? I do. Because he trusted me to look ahead with him.”

She knows about the deal with my mother. He told her.

My fingers tingle, and I know I’ll lose feeling in the entire limb soon, but that doesn’t stop my body from trembling with fury…with rising power.

Think. I have to think. She knows all my moves, at least the ones Xaden taught me.

“Look at where we are. Riorson House.” Her mouth is close enough to my ear that I can feel how hard she’s breathing. “Who wouldn’t love all that power and the case it comes in? But I’m sure as hell not fighting you over a man’s affections. I’m going to war with you for a crown. That was the reason we were engaged. It was promised to me, and I’m not giving it to a damned Sorrengail who chose to drop the flier instead of her squadmate. Your entire family deserves to die for what you’ve put us through.”

crown? Engaged? My chest aches because it all makes sense. Two aristocratic families in need of an alliance. And I’m nowhere near nobility.

“And gods, get some control over your emotions, would you? You’re so fucking weak it’s pathetic.” Her words are a string of hisses.

Fuck her.

Rhiannon trained me, too.

I rear back with my head as hard as I can, cracking cartilage from the sound of it, and the pressure vanishes from my arm and shoulder, freeing me.

She yelps, the sound slightly muffled, and I thrust my uninjured elbow backward, hitting the soft tissue of her stomach just like Rhi taught me.

Blocking out the pain, I burst up onto my knees, then twist, throwing my weight onto her. She topples backward, and I take advantage of the opening, driving my knee into her sternum, then reaching for her throat.

I’m going to fucking kill her. How dare she come after me, like I had a choice in Luella’s fall? Like I had anything to do with Xaden’s choice to leave her? Fuck that. How dare she come after what’s mine. He isn’t a crown. He isn’t a stepping stool for power. He isn’t a tool to elevate her standing. He’s everything.

Her face turns a mottled shade of red, and her eyes widen with panic.

“Violet!” someone shouts. A woman. A friend, maybe?

Power sears my veins and lifts the hair on the back of my neck, rising with the force of a tornado. Her hands tear at mine, but I only squeeze harder.

“Damn it, Cat!” someone else yells from the opposite side. “Tap out!”

Tap out? I don’t want her to submit. I want her to cease existing.

“I honestly don’t care if you kill her, Violence.” Xaden’s voice filters through the rage that holds me with the same unbreakable grip I’m using to choke the life out of my opponent. “But you will.”

I blink as his words clear just enough of the fog for me to feel the slowing of her pulse beneath my hands, but I don’t release my grip.

“Tap!” multiple people shout.

“I respect whatever choice you make.”

But I’m not making a choice. There is no choice. There’s only the swirling, chaotic vortex of anger and jealousy and—

She’s fucking cheating, using mindwork.

“Get out of my head!” I scream so loudly my throat burns.

Cat glares up at me, and the anger burns even hotter as she tries to work her thumbs beneath my hands, wrath burning in her eyes.

She’s not going to tap out. She’d really rather die than lose to me.

“I don’t want to kill her.” I have to let go. But my hands don’t get the signal.

“Then don’t.” His voice wraps around my mind, and the anger ebbs just enough to let me realize he’s here. It’s been a week since I’ve seen him, and he’s here.

And I love him more than I hate her.

I yank my hands from her throat, but I can’t make my body move any farther than that. “I need your help.”

Cat wheezes for breath as heavy bootsteps approach from the left.

Xaden’s arms surround me, lifting me to my feet, and I cling to the love I feel for him with my fucking fingernails to keep from letting the anger consume me.

“I didn’t tap out!” Cat croaks as she scurries backward, her neck bearing my handprints.

“Riorson!” Devera snaps. “Why would you interfere in a chall—”

“Because she cheated!” Imogen shouts. “She used mindwork!”

“She’s the one who’s unhinged!” Cat’s voice breaks multiple times, and she jabs her finger at me.

I’m unhinged? I’ll show you unhinged when I kill you for fucking with my head!” I lunge against Xaden’s arms, but he holds tight.

“Let me know if you actually mean it.” He lifts me off my feet.

“Catriona!” Professor Kiandra forces her way through the line of fliers. “Tell me you didn’t…” She glances from Cat to me and back again. “Let go, Cat!”

“Fuck her!” Pure hatred emanates from every line of Cat’s body and only fuels the fire beneath my skin. “And fuck her entire family. I hope you all die for what you’ve done to us!”

Surging against Xaden’s strength does no good. He has me locked down. But power whips through me and releases with a searing crack.

Lightning strikes simultaneously with thunder, flashing white across my vision. Cadets scream and the scent of smoke fills the air.

Xaden flings a hand outward, and shadows stream toward the wooden bleachers, snuffing out the quickly growing flames.

“Bragen! Maren! Escort Catriona to her room,” Kiandra orders. “Her gift is limited by—”

“Distance. I know.” Xaden swings me up over his shoulder like I’m a bag of grain.

“Riorson!” Rhiannon calls out, catching his attention before tossing the conduit to him.

He catches it one-handed, nods, then strides for the exit.

Every instinct tells me to kick, to thrash, to beat him into letting me go, but I force myself to stay completely still as he carries me out into the hall, past the gaping faces of leadership who line the walls, waiting for the challenge period to be over.

“It will ease,” Xaden promises.

And it does. The fog of Cat’s power fades with every step, leaving me raw, like the ruins of a beach after a tidal wave recedes. Gods, how am I going to keep this from happening again?

Xaden doesn’t even break a sweat as he walks past the great hall, then surprises me when he doesn’t turn into the foyer. Nope, he carries me straight into the Assembly chamber, startling the four who are gathered there, including Brennan.

And I’m in control of enough of my emotions to feel every ounce of the embarrassment that heats my face, but my body still vibrates with anger. At least it’s my own genuine anger this time.

“What are you—” my brother starts.

“Get out,” Xaden demands, crossing the room and climbing the steps of a new dais, where the chairs of the Assembly sit behind the long, formal table. “All of you. Right fucking now.”

They glance at one another, then shock me to my toes by doing exactly that—grabbing a stack of parchment from the corner table and leaving, shutting the door behind them on their way out.

Xaden tosses the conduit into the massive middle chair before lowering me, my body sliding against his until my toes touch the dais. When our gazes collide, he arches his scarred brow. “She got you good.” He reaches for my face, turning my head gently to examine my cheek. “But I think you got the last word.”

“And how many of those humiliating words did you hear?” I don’t want the answer, but I need it.

“All of them.”



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