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Fourth Wing by Rebecca Yarros


Fourth Wing

by Rebecca Yarros

Published by Red Tower Books

Book 1 in The Empyrean Series


Twenty-year-old Violet Sorrengail was supposed to enter the Scribe Quadrant, living a quiet life among books and history.


Now, the commanding general—also known as her tough-as-talons mother—has ordered Violet to join the hundreds of candidates striving to become the elite of Navarre: dragon riders.


But when you’re smaller than everyone else and your body is brittle, death is only a heartbeat away...because dragons don’t bond to “fragile” humans. They incinerate them.


With fewer dragons willing to bond than cadets, most would kill Violet to better their own chances of success. The rest would kill her just for being her mother’s daughter—like Xaden Riorson, the most powerful and ruthless wingleader in the Riders Quadrant.


She’ll need every edge her wits can give her just to see the next sunrise.


Yet, with every day that passes, the war outside grows more deadly, the kingdom's protective wards are failing, and the death toll continues to rise. Even worse, Violet begins to suspect leadership is hiding a terrible secret.


Friends, enemies, lovers. Everyone at Basgiath War College has an agenda—because once you enter, there are only two ways out: graduate or die.

Genre:


Triggers:

Violence & Death

 

Have you ever read a book that is so good, you are literally speechless at the end?

Fourth Wing was it for me.

Holy shit. Holllllllllyyyyyyyy shhhiiiittttt.

This is a book that gives you the rare book hangover.

I can't believe I almost didn't read this when I did. My best friend forced me to, and I have never been happier she made me.

I'm going to break this up in parts, because I have a lot of thoughts, and I don't want to miss anything by just whizzing through it.


Story Arc - Absolutely amazing. For such a long book, there was never a moment where I felt bored reading it. Nothing felt filler. Everything was important. Everything built up perfectly to an insane climax of the story, and by the end, had me immediately checking when the next book came out. It flowed so perfectly.


Writing - Rebecca Yarros is a phenomenal writer. Her usage of words paints the perfect picture, and I was easily able to picture everything described in the book as if it was a movie. Not every writer can do this with fantasy. Authors have to create whole new worlds, politics, cultures, and sometimes species, yet translate is to page in a way that doesn't feel cheesy, and can be understood by the reader. Rebecca did this flawlessly. She didn't just portray Basgiath and the world they live in beautifully, but was also able to write well rounded, interesting characters that made you feel for them - whether is was love or hatred.


Basgiath - As much as I love Zodiac Academy, I'm not usually into academia books. Zodiac Academy gets away with it for the same reason Fourth Wing does - they are not high school students. These are young adults. Basgiath draws you in due to the sheer brutality of it. It's not just the dragons that are dangereous, but more often then not, the people. There is an undercurrent of tension throughout the book that is just a taste of what a student at this school would live through everyday. How Rebecca elicited this emotion, I am not sure, but she had me feeling anxious the whole book, just waiting for the next attack.


Dragons (in general) - Dragons are the most mysterious aspect of this book. With the humans, I had a good understanding of how they worked politically, but with the dragons, they keep everything so secret. Tiny little hints here and there. I definitely have my theories (which I will elaborate on below) but one thing is for certain, I can't wait to learn more about them as a whole. As for what we learn about dragons in Fourth Wing, I loved that Rebecca Yarros did not hold back on their brutality. Fantasy Romance has a tendency of romantising dragons. Don't get me wrong, dragons can be kind in Fourth Wing - to their rider - but they are also brutal creatures that cannot be controlled. I love that.


Characters:

Violet - aka, Violence, which I think is the best nickname ever. I'm not even going to pretend that I don't usually gravitate to the male in these type of stories, and believe me, I love Xaden, but Violet is by far my favorite character. She is an underdog. She has a disability that would be a death sentence to anyone not as determined as her. What I liked most about Violet, was the fact that while she recognized her weaknesses, she also knew she was intelligent. She used her intellect and book smarts to help her where it could, while taking steps to improve where she was weakest. Rebecca Yarros didn't write Violet to magically overcome everything and become the strongest either. She still has limitations. She isn't the strongest physically, and never will be. But she is stronger than she ever was before, and more importantly, has a stronger, and more open heart. It wasn't her brute strength that had (spoiler --------> two dragons choosing her,<---------) but her strength of character.

Also, her power? Amazing. I've always had a thing for that kind of power.


Xaden - ohymygawd. I love Xaden. I probably loved him from the first page we are introduced to him, and he is threatening Violet.

Not sure what that says about me.

I don't care.

The more Xaden was on page, the more I loved his character.

Yes. He is brutal. It's established that if you have made it to your third year, you have to be. Especially in his circumstance, being the son of a traitor. His character was always interesting to read. He is a very layered character, and having Violet slowly unwrap him added to the excitement. The slow buildup was just perfect, and by the end, you trust him.

Add that with the fact that he and his dragon are feared, and he can control shadows.

HOT.


Xaden and Violet - the romance is absolutely perfect. It is exactly what you want when you read an enemies to lovers story like this. Wariness and reluctance when forced to work together, but slowly, a trust is built there. Rebecca Yarros wrote their relationship to be slow and steady. Attraction was there, but they had to really peel back those layers to learn who the other truly was. The best part of their bond, even before it became romantic, was how they helped one another. Violet keeping his secret when she caught him breaking the law, and him, by not being soft with her. One could argue that it was selfish, because Xaden and Violet's dragons are bonded, so if Violet dies, and Tairn dies with her, he will die as well. But it was clear from early on he saw something in her, and he helped her build on that. He never told her she couldn't do something, but helped her build on her strengths, and find ways around what she couldn't physically do. As for what Violet brings to their relationship, she reminds him of his humanity, something Xaden was forgetting in the grand scheme of things.

One of the things I appreciated the most about Xaden and Violet was how healthy their relationship is. For the first time EVER, in ALL the romance I have ever read, a character confesses their feelings, while ALSO saying its okay if the other doesn't feet the same. Okay. That's a lie. I've seen that a lot. BUT she also makes it clear that her pain wouldn't be his problem, but her's alone. Acknowledging that they can't dictate how the other feels. When I read that part, my mind was blown. Consent is being shown more and more in romance these days, which is great, but we need more of this as well.


Tairn - Fuck I love him. A powerful, grumpy dragon, that has a heart of gold. Considering he was never planning on bonding with a rider again after he barely survived the death of his last rider, I understand why he chose Violet. Seeing this physically weak, broken woman put her life on the line for a dragon others thought wasn't worth alive spoke to him, and I understand why he made the rash decision to choose her. Despite the complications that arose from it. As soon as Tairn was mentioned in class, I knew he would be her dragon.


Andarna - I love her soooooo much. She threw me for a loop though! (spoiler---------> After Tairn was mentioned in class, I immediently was like "oh, he is going to end up at the Threshing and choose her." But then Andarna shows up, and I second guessed myself. Then I got excited. Underdog choosing another underdog. Rebecca did a great job throwing the reader off with what was sort of predictable. I never expected them both to choose her <---------- I love the juxtaposition of Andarna and Tairn. Tairn is grumpy smartass. Andarna is a cinnamonroll. I don't have too many thoughts on her as of yet, as we don't see her as much as Tairn, but I can't wait to see what she will grow into.


Liam - Liam is a great bridge between Xaden and Violet. Sure, he ends up at Violet's side because Xaden asked him to, but because of his goodness, Violet and him build a genuine friendship. (spoiler ----------> Rebecca. How dare you? Make us fall in love with Liam, and kill him off in one of the most heartbreaking scenes I have ever read. Ugh. It's been a month since I've read this book and I'm still not recovered. <------------)


Dain - So when my best friend was trying to get me to stop a binge read of a Piper Rayne series to read this with her, she told me there was a bit of a love triange. Honestly, I hate love triangles, but she also said there are dragons and its super hot, so I did what she asked. Now, the love triangle thing is not really a love triangle, because from the moment we meet Dain ... I was not a fan. I'm all for a guy protecting the woman he loves, but when that woman says no, it means no! Support her! Advise her! Don't pout when she doesn't do shit your way. Any attraction Violet had for Dain quickly faded with his attitude. So, no true love triangle, thankfully. He isn't even a good friend. Did you catch on to what he did towards the end - I'm being purposely vague here to prevent spoilers - because I didn't. I was shocked, right along with Violet. Sad for her, because her childhood best friend (spoiler--------->sent her off to certain death. What a piece of shit!<-----------)


Violet's siblings (Brennan and Mira) - Despite being dead, Brennan was a constant presence in this book. Violet's memories of him, as well as the secret diary Brennen wrote for Mira, essentially giving her a cheat sheet to get through Basgiath without dying, made him feel like he was there. Obviously he was good, despite his mother (which I will get around to). Mira is also good (and I will get more into her below when discussing theories, which will involve spoilers, so be warned). While she believes in what she is doing, she is not a rule follower, and I am interested to see where her character goes. (spoiler--------->as for Brennan, I didn't catch on at all that he was alive until the very end, when Xaden told the others he was bringing Violet to this mysterious man who is adept at poison. Knowing her brother was - or is, rather - a healer, I knew right away. My best friend caught on way earlier than that, when Xaden stopped himself from talking about a mysterious "him".<-------------)


General Sorrengail (Violet's mother) - What a bitch. I will get into my theory around General Sorrengail below, but for now, my non-spoilery thoughts are just that. What a horrendous character.


There are other characters, and I have thoughts on a lot of them, but this is getting long, and I still haven't gotten to my theories.


BE WARNED! SPOILERS BELOW!


General Sorrengail: I think she wanted Violet to die. She never seemed pleased with Violet's success. She forced Violet to go into the Rider Quadrant despite her disability, and the fact she had only 6 months of training, compared to the years the other students had. She obviously knew that Violet, being so knowledgable, and being so close to her father, might figure out that those fairytales were real. She knows Violet wouldn't be able to stand by and let them do nothing. It may seem unbelieveable that a mother would do that, but by forcing her into the Quadrant, she doesn't have to be the one to kill her. And let's face it, aside from being a terrible mother, she is a fucking despicable human. Whipping Xaden when he was 15 years old, marking all the children of the rebels, and forcing them into the Rider Quadrant, knowing most of them will die? Garbage person. Also ... I think she knows Brennan is alive, and now a rebel.


Brennan (not really a theory, just some thoughts): When did you figure out he was still alive? I didn't catch on till the end, when Xaden said he was taking her to him, a poison master. My best friend caught is a ways back, when he almost lets something slip, but stops himself. Reading back through my quotes, Xaden mentions knowing a poison master when he calls Violet out on poisoning her sparring partners. Either way, I wasn't expecting it. I'm curious how he found out the truth, and what made him sacrifice everything to be where he is at now. Maybe his friend, Tairn's first rider, was a rebel, and told him the truth. Maybe they were in love? Maybe his mother caught on to their rebellious leanings and tried to have them assainated. Brennan escaped, and to cover up her failure, she faked his death?


The Dragons: Much like the people are seperated by what is right and wrong, it seems the dragons are too. After all, I'm assuming the dragons that are bonded to Violet's mother, or the other riders that are in the "army" wouldn't bond with them unless they believed they were doing the right thing. Then there are the dragons that bond to the rebels, and obviously wouldn't do so unless they could tell their morals aligned with their own. I suspect that it has something to do with The Vale, where the dragons live and they keep their young protected. Perhaps there are those dragons who side with the country and block the borders because they feel safer that way? Then other dragons who are willing to take the risk, because they hate that there are these abominations outside the border that are murdering innocent people and destroying whole towns? Who knows. I'm very interested to find out though.


Violet's Dad: I'm calling it. I'm predicting we find out that General Sorrengail killed her husband, because of what he knew and he didn't agree with what they were doing. Slowly poisoning him until he passes to make it look like a long-term illness.


I was hesitating on Fourth Wing, because I didn't think it would be my thing. Thankfully, I have a very persuasive best friend. Fourth Wing blew me away. The writing, the world building, the lore, the dragons, the rich characters, the banter, the romance and the sex, it really is one of the best books I've read this year.







A dragon without its rider is a tragedy. A rider without their dragon is dead.


It seems…cruel, but the first rule of living at Basgiath is never question a dragon. They tend to cremate anyone they find rude.


Damn it, I don’t want to find a single thing about Xaden Riorson admirable, and yet here he is, being all annoyingly admirable. Asshole.


Xaden: “Fascinating. You look all frail and breakable, but you’re really a violent little thing, aren’t you?”


Violet: “You’re not going to handle me?”

I call after him, shock raising my brows.

Xaden: “Not tonight!”

he tosses over his shoulder. I scoff.

Violet: “What are you waiting for?”

Xaden: “It’s no fun if you expect it,”

he answers, striding into the darkness.

Xaden: “Now, get back to bed before your wingleader realizes you’re out after curfew.”

Violet: “What?”

I gawk after him.

Violet: You’re my wingleader!”


Professor Kaori: “I taught both your siblings. A signet like mine is too useful here in the classroom to let me deploy with a wing for long. Brennan was a spectacular rider and a good man. Mira is shrewd and gifted in the seat when it comes to riding.”

I nod.

Professor Kaori: “But you’re smarter than both of them.”

I blink. It’s not often I get compared to my brother and sister and somehow come out on top.

Professor Kaori: “From what I’ve seen of you helping your friend study in commons every night, it seems you might be more compassionate, too. Don’t forget that.”

Violet: “Thank you, but being smart and compassionate isn’t going to help me when it comes to Threshing.”

A self-deprecating laugh escapes.

Violet: “You know more about dragons than anyone else in the quadrant, probably anyone else on the Continent. They choose strength and shrewdness.”

Professor Kaori: “They choose for reasons they don’t see fit to share with us.”

He pushes off his desk.

Professor Kaori: “And not all strength is physical, Violet.”


Xaden: “Going for blood today, are we, Violence?”

he whispers. Metal hits the mat again and he kicks it past my head and out of my reach. He’s not taking my daggers to use against me; he’s disarming me just to prove he can. My blood boils.

Violet: “My name is Violet,”

I seethe.

Xaden: “I think my version fits you better.”

He releases my wrist and stands, offering me a hand.

Xaden: “We’re not done yet.”


Xaden: “Taking out your enemy before the battle is really smart; I’ll give that to you,”

he whispers, his warm breath brushing the shell of my ear.

Oh gods. He knows what I’ve been doing. The pain in my arm is nothing compared to the nausea churning in my stomach at the thought of what he might do with that knowledge.

Xaden: “Problem is, if you aren’t testing yourself in here”

—he scrapes the dagger down my neck, but there’s no warm trickle of blood, so I know he hasn’t cut me—

Xaden: “then you’re not going to get any better.”

Violet: “You’d rather I die, no doubt,”

I fire back, the side of my face pressed into the mat. This isn’t just painful, it’s humiliating.

Xaden: “And be denied the pleasure of your company?”

Violet: “I fucking hate you.”

The words are past my lips before I can shut my mouth.

Xaden: “That doesn’t make you special.”


Ignoring Xaden’s outstretched hand, I gain my feet and his lips curve into an approving smile.

Xaden: “She can be taught.”

Violet: “She’s a quick learner,”

Xaden: “That remains to be seen.”


Beautiful. Fucking. Asshole.

My breath catches and my body warms, the traitorous bitch. You are not attracted to toxic men, I remind myself, and yet, here I am, getting all attracted.


Violet: “How did you know?”

I finally ask. My muscles lock, including my thighs, which just happen to still be bracketing his hips. His eyes darken.

Xaden: “Oh, Violence, you’re good, but I’ve known better poison masters. The trick is to not make it quite so obvious.”


The posts knock a chunk of granite loose, and the rock tumbles down the course, smacking every obstacle in its path until it crashes twenty feet in front of us. If there was ever a metaphor for my life, well…that’s it.


Violet: “Look, are you going to kill me or not? The anticipation is starting to annoy the fuck out of me.”


Violet: “I just need to know what my chances are here.”

My hands curl into fists. The ass has the nerve to smile.

Xaden: “That’s the oddest way I’ve ever been hit on—”

Violet: “Not my chances with you, you conceited prick!”


Violet: “Someone like you would never get it, but I knew coming here was a death sentence. It didn’t matter that I’ve been trained my entire life to enter the Scribe Quadrant; when General Sorrengail gives an order, you can’t exactly ignore it.”

Gods, why am I running off at the mouth to this man? What’s the worst he’ll do? Kill you?

Xaden: “Sure you can.”

He shrugs.

Xaden: “You just might not like the consequences.”


Xaden: “Here’s the thing, Sorrengail. Hope is a fickle, dangerous thing. It steals your focus and aims it toward the possibilities instead of keeping it where it belongs—on the probabilities.”

Violet: “So I’m supposed to what? Not hope that I live? Just plan for death?”

Xaden: “You’re supposed to focus on the things that can kill you so you find ways to not die.”

He shakes his head.

Xaden: “I can barely count the number of people in this quadrant who want you dead, either as revenge against your mother or because you’re just really good at pissing people off, but you’re still here, defying the odds.”

Shadows wrap around me, and I swear I feel a caress along the side of my wounded cheek.

Xaden: “It’s been rather surprising to watch, actually.”

Violet: “Happy to be your entertainment. I’m going to bed.”


Xaden: “People die,”

he says slowly, his jaw ticking before he drags in a deep breath.

Xaden: “It’s going to happen over and over again. It’s the nature of what happens here. What makes you a rider is what you do after people die. You want to know why you’re still alive? Because you’re the scale I currently judge myself against every night. Every day I let you live, I get to convince myself that there’s still a part of me that’s a decent person. So if you want to quit, then please, spare me the temptation and fucking quit. But if you want to do something, then do it.”

Violet: “I’m too short to span the distance!”

I hiss, uncaring that anyone could hear us.

Xaden: “The right way isn’t the only way. Figure it out.”

Then he turns and walks away.

Fuck. Him.


Dain: “I don’t know if I can watch,”

Dain says, drawing my attention back to his strong face. His perfectly trimmed beard brackets full lips drawn tight into a frown.

Violet: “Then close your eyes.”

I have a plan—a shitty one, but it’s worth a try.

Dain: “What changed between Parapet and now?”

Dain asks again, a wealth of emotions in his eyes that I can’t begin to interpret. Well, except the fear. That doesn’t need any interpretation.

Violet: “Me.”


Violet: “I expect the thirty-second penalty for using the rope,”

I answer, my breaths steadying.

Amber: “And the knife?”

Amber’s gaze narrows.

Amber: “She’s disqualified.”

When Xaden doesn’t answer, she turns that glare on him.

Amber: “Surely she’s out! You can’t tolerate lawlessness within your own wing, Riorson!”

But Xaden’s gaze never leaves mine as he silently waits for me to respond.

Violet: “A rider may only bring to the quadrant the items they can carry—”

I start.

Amber: “Are you quoting the Codex to me?”

Amber shouts.

Violet: “—and they shall not be separated from those items no matter what they may be. For once carried across the parapet, they are considered part of their person. Article Three, Section Six, Addendum B.”

Her blue eyes flare wide as I glance at her.

Amber: “That addendum was written to make thievery an executional offense.”

Violet: “Correct.”

I nod, looking between her and the onyx eyes that see straight through me.

Violet: “But in doing so, it gave any item carried across the parapet the status of being a part of the rider.”

I unsheathe the chipped and battered blade with a sharp bite of pain in my palms.

Violet: “This isn’t a challenge blade. It’s one I carried across and therefore considered part of myself.”

His eyes flare, and I don’t miss the hint of a smirk on that infuriatingly decadent mouth of his. It should be against the Codex to look that good and be so ruthless.

Violet: “The right way isn’t the only way.”

I use his own words against him. Xaden holds my gaze.

Xaden: “She has you, Amber.”

Amber: “On a technicality!”

Xaden: “She still has you.”

He turns slightly and delivers a look that I never want directed at me.


Tynan: “You can’t interfere!”

Tynan shouts at Xaden, but I don’t dare look away from my opponent long enough to see how the wingleader reacts.

Xaden: “No, but I can narrate,”


Tairn: “Your hands are bound, too. Do you bleed often?

Violet: “I try not to.”

He scoffs.

Tairn: Let’s go, Violet Sorrengail.

He lifts his head, and the golden dragon peeks out from under his wing.

Violet: “How do you know my name?”

I gawk up at him.

Tairn: And to think, I’d almost forgotten just how loquacious humans are.

He sighs, the gust of his breath rattling the trees.

Tairn: Get on my back.

Oh. Shit. He’s choosing…me.

Violet: “Get on your back?”

I repeat like a fucking parrot.

Violet: “Have you seen you? Do you have any idea how huge you are?”

I’d need a damned ladder to get up there. The look he gives me can only be described as annoyance.

Tairn: One does not live a century without being well aware of the space one takes up. Now get on.”


Tairn: “My name is Tairneanach, son of Murtcuideam and Fiaclanfuil, descended from the cunning Dubhmadinn line.

He stands to his full height, bringing me eye level with the canopy of trees around the clearing, and I squeeze a little tighter with my thighs.

Tairn:But I’m not going to assume that you’ll be able to remember that once we reach the field, so Tairn will do until I inevitably have to remind you.


Violet: “Why did you choose me?”

I have to know, because as soon as we land, there are going to be questions.

Tairn: Because you saved her.”

Tairn’s head inclines toward the golden as we approach, and she follows after us. Our speed slows.

Violet: “But…”

I shake my head.

Violet: “Dragons value strength and cunning and…ferocity in their riders.”

None of which defines me.

Tairn:Please, do tell me more about what I should value.”


How ironic. Tairn is the most celebrated dragon in the Vale, and I’m the most unlikely rider in the quadrant.

Tairn:You are the smartest of your year. The most cunning.”

I gulp at the compliment, brushing it off. I was trained as a scribe, not a rider.

Tairn:You defended the smallest with ferocity. And strength of courage is more important than physical strength. Since you apparently need to know before we land.”

My throat tightens from his words, emotion forming a knot I have to swallow past.

Oh. Shit. I hadn’t spoken those words. I’d thought them. He can read my thoughts.

Tairn: See? Smartest of your year.”

So much for privacy.

Tairn: “You’ll never be alone again.”

Violet: “That sounds more like a threat than a comfort,


There’s a sound from the slopes that reminds me of muttering…if dragons mutter.

Tairn:They do and they are. Ignore it.”

Again, there’s no room for argument in his tone.

Violet: “Thanks,”

I whisper, then slide down on my butt like he’s a bumpy piece of lethal playground equipment, taking the brunt of the impact with my left leg when I hit the ground.

Tairn: That’s one way to do it.”


Dain: “Did you step in?”

Dain demands.

Xaden: “Did I what?”

Xaden arches a dark brow and levels a look on Dain that would make a lesser person wither.

Xaden: “Did I see her outnumbered and already wounded? Did I think her bravery was as admirable as it was fucking reckless?”

He turns that stare on me, and I feel the impact all the way to my toes.

Violet: “And I would do it again.”

I raise my chin.

Xaden: “Well-the-fuck-aware,”

Xaden roars, losing his temper for the first time since I met him on Parapet. I pull in a quick breath, and Xaden does the same, as if he’s just as shocked by his outburst as I am.

Xaden: “Did I see her fight off three bigger cadets?”

His glare pivots to Dain.

Xaden: “Because the answer to all of those is yes. But you’re asking the wrong question, Aetos. What you should be asking is if Sgaeyl saw it, too.”

Dain swallows and looks away, obviously rethinking his position.

Violet: “His mate told him,”

I whisper. Sgaeyl called for Tairn.

Xaden: “She’s never been a fan of bullies,”

Xaden says to me.

Xaden: “But don’t mistake it as an act of kindness toward you. She’s fond of the little dragon. Unfortunately, Tairn chose you all on his own.”


Violet: “Why would you do that to him?”

I hurl at Xaden, then shake my head. I don’t care why.

Violet: “Forget it,”

I mutter, then march off, heading back toward the spot where Tairn told me to wait.

Xaden: “Because you put too much faith in him,”

Xaden answers anyway, catching up to me without even lengthening his stride.

Xaden: “And knowing who to trust is the only thing that will keep you alive—keep us alive—not only in the quadrant but after graduation.”

Violet: “There is no us,”

I say, dodging a rider as she races past. Dragons land left and right, the ground trembling with the force of the riot’s movement. I’ve never seen so many dragons at flight in the same moment.

Xaden: “Oh, I think you’ll find that’s no longer the case,”

Xaden murmurs next to me, gripping my elbow and yanking me out of the path of another rider running from the other direction. Yesterday, he would have let me run headfirst into him. Hell, he might have even pushed me.

Xaden: “Tairn’s bonds are so powerful, both to mate and rider, because he’s so powerful. Losing his last rider nearly killed him, which, in turn, nearly killed Sgaeyl. Mated pairs’ lives are—”

Violet: “Interdependent, I know that.”

We move forward until we’re dead center in the line of riders. If I wasn’t so aggravated by Xaden’s callous attitude toward Dain, I would take the time to admire just how spectacular it is to see hundreds of dragons land all around us. Or maybe I’d question how the man next to me manages to consume all the air in the massive field.

Xaden: “Each time a dragon chooses a rider, that bond is stronger than the last, which means that if you die, Violence, it sets off a chain of events that potentially ends with me dying, too.”

His expression is immovable marble, but the anger in his eyes leaves me breathless. It’s pure…rage.

Xaden: “So yeah, unfortunately for everyone involved, there’s now an us if the Empyrean lets Tairn’s choice stand.”

Oh. Gods.

I’m tethered to Xaden Riorson.


Xaden: “You’re freakishly calm for someone who just heard she’s about to be hunted.”

Violet: “It’s a typical Wednesday for me.”

I shrug, ignoring the way his gaze heats my skin.


My shoulders dip.

Violet: “I thought a hundred and one were willing to bond, plus you?”

Tairn: “Willing doesn’t mean they found worthy riders,”

Violet: “And yet two of you chose me?”

With forty-one unbonded? That’s quite the insult.

Tairn: You’re worthy. At least I think you are, but you apparently don’t pay attention in class.”


Defeat just about swallows me whole. I’ve bonded the biggest—and certainly grumpiest—dragon in the quadrant, and yet he has to make accommodations for me.

Tairn: “They’re accommodations for me. I’ve seen your memories. I’m not about to have you sticking daggers into my leg to climb up. Now let’s go.”


Dain: “I honestly thought you’d be all right once Tairn chose you.”

Violet: “And I will be,”

I assure him, my voice rising.

Violet: “I just need to strengthen my muscles to stay seated through maneuvers, and Tairn insists on making everything harder than what Kaori is doing.”

Tairn: “For your own good.”

Violet: “Are you always around?”

I snap back mentally.

Tairn: “Yes. Get used to it.”


Andarna: “It’s hard to love a second home as much as the first.”

I swallow.

Violet: “It’s easy when the second home is the right one.”


Violet: ““I never get to see her,”

I blatantly whine.

Violet: ““I’m always stuck with your grumpy ass.”

Andarna: “I’m always here,”

Andarna answers, but there’s no flicker of gold. She’s most likely in the Vale as usual, but at least she’s protected there.

Tairn: “This grumpy ass just caught you a dozen times, Silver One.”

Violet: ““Eventually you could call me Violet, you know.”

I take the time to examine every row of his scales. One of the biggest dangers to dragons are the smallest things they can’t remove that penetrate between the scales, causing infection.

Tairn: “I know. And I could call you Violence like the wingleader.”

Violet: ““You wouldn’t dare.”

I narrow my eyes as I move forward, checking where his chest begins to rise.

Violet: ““And you know how much that ass annoys me.”

Tairn: “Annoys you?”

Tairn chuckles above me, the sound like a chuffing cat.

Tairn: “Is that what you call it when your heart rate—”

Violet: ““Don’t even start with me.”


Violet: “Happy now?”

Tairn: “I’m hungry. I think I’ll partake in a flock of sheep.”


Dain: “I’m terrified you’re not going to make it to graduation, Vi.”

His shoulders slump.

Dain: “You know exactly how I feel about you, whether or not I can do anything about it, and I’m terrified.”

It’s that last line that does me in. Laughter bubbles up through my throat and escapes. His eyes widen.

Violet: “This place cuts away the bullshit and the niceties, revealing whoever you are at your core.”

I repeat his words from this summer.

Violet: “Isn’t that what you said to me? Is this who you really are at your core? Someone so enamored with rules that he doesn’t know when to bend or break them for someone he cares about? Someone so focused on the least I’m capable of doing, he can’t believe I can do so much more?”

The warmth drains from his brown eyes.

Violet: “Let’s get one thing straight, Dain.”

I take a step closer, but the distance between us only widens.

Violet: “The reason we’ll never be anything more than friends isn’t because of your rules. It’s because you have no faith in me. Even now, when I’ve survived against all odds and bonded not just one dragon but two, you still think I won’t make it. So forgive me, but you’re about to be some of the bullshit that this place cuts away from me.”


Immense, incredible hunger strikes, my stomach gnawing on emptiness that demands to be appeased with the blood of—

Liam: “Sorrengail?”

Liam looks over at me, concern etched between his brows.

Violet: “Tairn’s awake,”

I manage to say, clutching my stomach like I’m the one who craves a flock of sheep. Or goats. Or whatever he decides for the morning.

Violet:Good gods, please go eat something.”

Tairn: “The same could be suggested to you,

he snarls.

Violet: Such a morning person, aren’t you?”


Liam: “So Tairn hasn’t channeled to you, either, right?”

Liam asks, a look of uncertainty, vulnerability on his face. I shake my head.

Violet: “I think he has commitment issues,”

Tairn: “I heard that.”

Violet: “Then stay out of my head.”

Another wave of paralyzing hunger assaults me, and I nearly crush Markham’s scroll in my hand.

Violet:Don’t be an ass.”


Violet: "The only time I’ve actually been targeted was at night, and it’s not like Liam here is sleeping in my bedroom.”

Liam: “I mean, I’m not opposed—”

he begins, his knife hovering over the piece of wood.

Violet: “Don’t even start.”

I whip my head to face him and can’t help but laugh.

Violet: “You are a shameless flirt.”

Liam: “Thank you.”

He grins and goes back to carving.

Violet: “It wasn’t a compliment.”

Rhiannon: “Don’t mind her, she’s just sexually frustrated. Makes a girl crabby.”

Rhiannon writes the date down on her empty page and I follow suit, dipping my quill into my portable inkpot. Those easy, mess-less pens some of the others can already use is just another reason I can’t wait to channel. No more quills. No more inkpots.

Violet: “That has nothing to do with it.”

Gods, could she have said that a little louder?

Rhiannon: “And yet I don’t hear you denying it.”

She smiles sweetly at me.

Liam: “I’m sorry I don’t make the cut,”

Liam teases.

Liam: “But I’m sure Riorson would be fine with my reviewing a couple candidates, especially if it means you’ll stop flipping him off in front of his entire wing.”

Rhiannon: “And how exactly would you be reviewing candidates? What will you be scoring?”

Rhiannon asks, one eyebrow raised above her wide grin.

Violet: “This I have to hear.”

I manage a straight face for all of two seconds before laughing at how horrified he suddenly looks.

Violet: “Thanks for the offer, though. I’ll make sure to run any potential liaisons by you.”

Rhiannon: “I mean, you could watch,”

Rhiannon continues, blinking innocently at him.

Rhiannon: “Just to be sure she’s fully covered. You know, so no one…sticks it to her.”

Ridoc: “Oh, are we telling dick jokes now?”

Ridoc asks from Liam’s side.

Ridoc: “Because my entire life has led up to this very moment.”


My hip stings, knocking me out of my trance, and I startle.

Tairn: “Serves you right.

Rhiannon: "Pay attention!”

Rhiannon yells, drawing back her staff.

Rhiannon: “I could have… Oh.”

Clearly, she sees what I do, what nearly every other woman—and several of the men—are happily watching. How can we not when the two of them are mesmerizing? Garrick’s wider, more densely packed with muscle than Xaden, his rebellion relic only extending to his shoulder, the second largest I’ve seen. Only Xaden’s reaches his carved jawline.

Rhiannon: “That is…”

Violet: “It sure is,”

Liam: “Stop objectifying our wingleader,”

Liam teases.

Rhiannon: “Is that what we’re

doing?”

Rhiannon asks, not bothering to look away. My mouth waters at the muscled expanse of his back and that sculpted ass.

Violet: “Yeah, I think that’s what we’re doing.”

Liam snorts.

Rhiannon: “We could just be watching for technique.”

Violet: “Yeah. We absolutely could be.”

But I'm not.


Violet: “You ran,”

I snarl, wishing I could lunge forward and beat the shit out of him, but forcing my feet to stay planted where they are.

Violet: “That day in the field, you fucking ran when it was three on one, and we both know when it comes down to it, you’ll run again. That’s what cowards do.”

Jack flushes, his eyes nearly bugging out of his face.

Dain: “Oh, for fuck’s sake, Violet,”

Xaden: “She’s not wrong,”


Violet: “I was doing just fine until Tairn barged into my head with all his anger and distracted me,”

I argue, my defenses rising like the hackles of a dog.

Xaden: “Then learn how to block him out.”

He says it like it’s just that simple.

Violet: “What, with all this power I’m wielding?”

My brows rise.

Violet: “Or were you unaware that I’m still not channeling?”

I want to throttle him, to shake some ever-loving sense into that beautiful head of his. He leans in so we’re almost nose to nose.

Xaden: “I am annoyingly aware of everything you do.”


Xaden: “You choose the oddest times to defend her, Aetos.”

Xaden all but rolls his eyes as he looks at Dain.

Xaden: “And the most convenient times not to.”


Violet: “Right then. All right. Will you teach me to shield?”

A smile curves his mouth, and my gaze drops to his lips.

Xaden: “Say please.”

Violet: “Are you always this difficult?”

Xaden: “Only when I know I have something you need. What can I say, I like making you squirm. It’s like a sweet little slice of payback for what you’ve put me through these last couple of months.”

He brushes the snow off my hair.

Violet: “What I’ve put you through?”

Unbelievable.

Xaden: “You’ve scared me nearly to death once or twice, so I think saying please is a fair request.”

Like he’s ever played fair a day in his life. I take a deep breath and swat at a snowflake that lands on my nose.

Violet: “As you prefer. Xaden?”

I smile sweetly up at him and inch a little closer.

Violet: “Would you pretty, pretty please teach me how to shield before I accidentally climb you like a tree and we both wake up with regrets?”


Xaden: “Damn it. Touching you was a bad idea.”

Violet: “The worst,”

I agree, but my tongue skims my lower lip. He groans and my core melts at the sound.

Xaden: “Kissing you would be a cataclysmic mistake.”

Violet: “Calamitous.”

What would it take to hear that groan again? The inches between us feel like kindling, ready to burn at the first suggestion of heat, and I’m a living, breathing flame. This is everything I should run from, and yet denying the primal attraction I feel is completely, utterly impossible.

Xaden: “We’ll both regret it.”

He shakes his head, but there’s more than hunger in his eyes as he stares at my lips.

Violet: “Naturally,”

I whisper. But knowing I’ll regret it doesn’t stop me from wanting it—wanting him. Regretting is a problem for future Violet.

Xaden: “Fuck it.”


Dain: “You’ve never been weak to me, Vi—”

Dain starts, but I shake my head.

Violet: “Don’t you get it? It doesn’t matter what you think—it only matters what I think. And you were right. But the Riders Quadrant stripped away the fear and even the anger about being thrown into this quadrant, and it revealed who I really am. At my core, Dain, I’m a rider. Tairn knew it. Andarna knew it. It’s why they chose me. And until you can stop looking for ways to keep me in a glass cage, we aren’t going to get past this, no matter how many years of friendship we have between us.”


Xaden: “There are a dozen of these daggers strapped to my body, so start disarming me.”

He lifts a sardonic brow.

Xaden: “Unless you don’t know how to handle an opponent on top of you, and if so, that’s a whole other issue.”

Violet: “I know how to handle you on top of me,”

I challenge quietly. He lowers his mouth to my ear.

Xaden: “You won’t like what happens if you push me.”

Violet: “Or maybe I will.”

I turn just enough that my lips brush the shell of his ear. He jerks up, and the heat in his gaze makes me all too aware of everywhere our bodies connect.

Xaden: “Disarm me before I test that theory in front of everyone in this gym.”

Violet: “Interesting. I didn’t take you for an exhibitionist.”

Xaden: “Keep pushing, and I guess you’ll find out.”

His gaze drops to my mouth.

Violet: “I thought you said kissing me was a mistake.”

I don’t care if the entire quadrant is watching if that means he’ll kiss me again.

Xaden: “It was.”

He smirks.

Xaden: “I’m just teaching you that blades aren’t the only way to disarm an opponent. Tell me, Violence, are you disarmed?”

Arrogant ass.


Violet: “Dragon relationships are absolutely incomprehensible,”

Xaden: “Yeah? You should try a human one sometime. Just as vicious, but less fire.”


Imogen: “You’ve never even been to the Archives?”

Emery: “I avoid that duty like the plague. Scribes freak me out. Quiet little know-it-alls, acting like they can make or break someone by writing something down.”

I grin. There’s more truth to that statement than most people realize.


Violet: “Good strong pulse. He just knocked him out. Open his mouth.”

I snag the vial hidden in the pocket of my leathers, uncork it, and then let the tonic flow into the guard’s mouth.

Violet: “He’ll sleep the rest of the night.”

Liam’s wide eyes meet mine.

Liam: “You’re kind of terrifying.”

Violet: “Thank you.”

I grin, and we get out of there, running as fast as we can.


Violet: “We have brought the ultimate weapon for our enemies. An up-to-date map of all current outposts of Navarrian wings, to include troop strength of infantry battlements.”

I point to the forts along the Cygnisen border.

Violet: “As well as the locations of all current skirmishes in the last thirty days. Including last night.”

A murmur rips through the quadrant.

Kaori: “And how do we know this map is, in fact, current?”

Professor Kaori asks, holding his reclaimed journal under one arm. There’s no stopping the smile that spreads across my face.

Violet: “Because we stole it from General Sorrengail’s office.”

Absolute mayhem breaks out, some of the riders rushing the stage as professors battle their way toward us, but I ignore it all as Xaden tilts one corner of that beautiful mouth and tips an imaginary hat to me, bowing his head for a heartbeat before bringing his gaze back to hold mine. Satisfaction fills every ounce of my being as I smile up at him.

It doesn’t matter how the vote comes down.

I’ve already won.


Mira: “So let’s do this.”

Mira stands back.

Mira: “Who is in command?”

She glances toward Quinn.

Mira: “And let’s pretend that I don’t have three years of seniority on even the highest-ranked of you.”

Dain: “Then I’m in command.”

Dain sits up straight, his chin rising a good inch.

Liam: “Our wingleader is here,”

Liam argues, pointing at Xaden.

Liam: “I would say that puts him in command.”

Xaden: “We can pretend I’m not here, just for the sake of the exercise.”

Xaden sets his dragon on the table and leans back in his chair, draping his arm across the back of mine, a move that makes Dain grit his teeth.

Xaden: “Give Aetos here the position we all know he craves.”

Violet: “Don’t be a dick,”

I whisper.