top of page

Iron Flame by Rebecca Yarros

Iron Flame

by Rebecca Yarros

Published by Red Tower Books

Book 2 in the Empyrean Series

“The first year is when some of us lose our lives. The second year is when the rest of us lose our humanity.” —Xaden Riorson

Everyone expected Violet Sorrengail to die during her first year at Basgiath War College—Violet included. But Threshing was only the first impossible test meant to weed out the weak-willed, the unworthy, and the unlucky.

Now the real training begins, and Violet’s already wondering how she’ll get through. It’s not just that it’s grueling and maliciously brutal, or even that it’s designed to stretch the riders’ capacity for pain beyond endurance. It’s the new vice commandant, who’s made it his personal mission to teach Violet exactly how powerless she is–unless she betrays the man she loves.

Although Violet’s body might be weaker and frailer than everyone else’s, she still has her wits—and a will of iron. And leadership is forgetting the most important lesson Basgiath has taught her: Dragon riders make their own rules.

But a determination to survive won’t be enough this year.

Because Violet knows the real secret hidden for centuries at Basgiath War College—and nothing, not even dragon fire, may be enough to save them in the end.



Violence, Death, Torture


Fourth Wing was one of my best reads of this year, so to say I was excited for Iron Flame, its an understatement.

I couldn't wait for Iron Flame to get to my house, and ended up buying the kindle version.

I was not disappointed.

Despite some Fourth Wing fans not being happy with the direction of the book, for the most part, many readers agree with me. I will not pretend I was a little worried that Iron Flame would suffer from "second book syndrome", but Rebecca Yarros blew me away, yet again.

It was amazing.

It was different from Fourth Wing in many ways. I won't dispute that.

But it was still amazing.

While Fourth Wing had a bit of a slower pace to the overall story - while still being action packed - Iron Flame is faster paced. It doesn't affect the overall story arc in my opinion. We get a lot of action, information, and there is never a moment that I felt something was just placed there for fan service. It answered some questions, confirmed some theories, and created new ones. While being fast paced, I didn't feel like it took away from the emotions Fourth Wing brought on.

I still smiled.

I still swooned.

I still bawled like a baby.

There was even a few times where my jaw dropped and I had to close the book for a minute.

Fun fact - I could have finished this book WAY faster than I did. What stopped me was I was genuinely afraid of the ending. I didn't put my book in a freezer or anything, but I was definitely feeling the stress.

All in all, the book was better than I imagined it would be.

If I had to complain about anything, it would be that the fighting between Violet and Xaden, in regards to Xaden wanting Violet to ask questions, and her being upset that he couldn't tell her everything, got old pretty quick. Violet was showing her age there.

Before I give you my final ratings, I have some musings and theories below, which of course, means spoilers. Don't read ahead if you haven't read Iron Flame yet.

Violet - I think Violet might be one of my favorite book heroines. For multiple reasons, really. Her intelligence. How she acknowledges her disability but doesn't let her stop her. Her empathy and sense of humor. Her strength of character. But I think the reason I enjoy her so much is because she is just so damn relateable. I wondered if the events of the last book would change her, have her react in a way that would turn me off, but it really didn't. If anything, I ended up loving her even more after reading this book. Now, there are lots of theories abound of what her second signet is, and I will address them, and what I personally thing ... below. :)

Xaden - Who called him being an intrinsic before it finally came out? I came about the theory after reading Fourth Wing and felt in my bones that was the case. There were at least 10 times in Iron Flame where I highlighted and noted "mindreading" and it is confirmed! While it's not mind reading like I thought it would be, and it's just that he can read intensions, that is still pretty cool, for multiple reasons. Anyone else feel like they knew something bad was going to happen to him at the end of this book? I did, which is why it took my 3 days to finally pick up the book and read the last 5 chapters. Xaden was the strong one in this book. When Violet was feeling unsure, he was the rock. I just had this feeling ... now did I think he would become venin? NOOOO! Capture, or being seriously hurt. But never that.

Xaden and Violet - For the most part, I loved them together in this book. But there were times where I just wanted to slap them both. Xaden, talk to Violet without making her ask questions. Violet, understand that Xaden isn't just keeping his own secrets. There was a little too much fighting. While I think that there are rocky times ahead for them, I do think they will keep it together. Violet will have to be the one that fights though. By the way ... that throne scene ... ermagawd.

Violet's Family - I love Violet's weird little family. Brennan felt like a classic big brother. Mira felt like a sassy big sister. All three of them together was funny, especially when bickering. What was surprising to me was her mother, and it was a wonderful surprise. Blew my theory out of the water, but it made for so much better of a story arc ... and of course left me with theories.

Andarna - It was obvious that she was special by her gift of stopping time as a child, but it was also obvious that she was special throughout this book because of her scales, and her ability to camouflage. I obviously didn't call anything about her being the last of her kind, nor how she was conscience while in her egg and waited 650 YEARS to hatch after hearing about a "scribe trained rider" ... I'm not sure anyone could. I'm very excited to see more from her in the future.

Aaric/Cam - I was sooooo nervous liking him, because I wasn't sure I could trust his motives. By the end of the book though, I trust him. Sage/Dreams - Some people have said that they think that Violet was seeing Xaden's dreams, but I think the Sage was contacting them both separately. He is playing them both for reasons yet to be determined. He wants Xaden to be one of them ... but does he want Violet to be a part of them, or does he want her power?

Varrish - Do you know who Varrish reminds me of? Professor Umbridge from Harry Potter. It's been a long time since I hated someone that much in a book. Yay to him being dead!

Dain - I didn't think Dain would get a redemption arc, to be honest. I was sure that he knew he was sending Violet to her death. Rebecca did a good job writing that scene so it seemed that way. While I do think Dain was terrible for reading her memories without asking, I actually started feeling bad for him. He was obviously manipulated by his father. When he tells Violet that he only read her memories to prove his father wrong, I believe him. I absolutely enjoyed his arc throughout this book. Not just due to him seeing the truth and siding with Violet and Xaden, but because he finally, finally, learns what it takes to be Violet's friend. He supports and trusts her, sure, but he stopped with the overprotective bullshit, and realized how strong she is. I won't lie, one of my favorite scenes in this book, was Dain challenging Violet to a fight. In the last book, he never would have done that, but he figured out how to get past her defenses and talk to her.

Sloan - I was really surprised by the amount of hate she had for Violet, but I love that quietly in the background, while reading her letters that Liam wrote for her, and Violet saved from burning, that she gets to know who Violet really is through Liam's own words, and slowly builds a tentative friendship with her.

Jack Barlowe - What the fuck? At first, I hated this, because the way Rebecca words it, it sounds like he was brought back to life, which is crazy. It wasn't made very clear what his injuries were, and the healing process. Never imagined he would be venin though. Crazy. I hate that we will be getting more of him, Ugh.

Cat - I'm really glad that we didn't have to endure her character being the bitchy ex the whole book. I still don't really like her. She is petty. But I like that by the end of the book, while she doesn't like Xaden and Violet together, she at least respects Violet.

Dragons and their politics - Obviously this will be something we get into further into the series, but the more I learn, the more fascinating I find it.


  • There is something about Violet coming into power, and black dragons starting to hatch more frequently. Tairn tells Violet that it wasn't unheard of for black dragons to hatch, just rare. But then he says that two black dragons had hatched in the last year. I don't think Rebecca would put this out there unless it meant something. Andarna tells Violet that when she heard there was a scribe trained rider, she knew it was time, and Violet would be her's. We don't know anything about the dragons hatching process, but it's interesting that even in an egg, she heard what was being talked about and chose to hatch ... why couldn't other dragons do the same? We won't know anything until we learn more about the dragons, but I find it interesting.

  • Okay. Violet's second signet. Rebecca Yarros said in an interview that her second signet HAS manifested and it's obvious what it is in Iron Flame. Which makes me laugh, because there are a couple of different things that point to three different abilities. I will admit, that after reading Iron Flame, my immediate gut feeling was that she has some power over the dead. Talking to the dead - like Liam when she was being tortured - and eventually, maybe resurrection. But after seeing some amazing theories out there, I actually don't think that is the case at all. But stick a pin in it. I have my own little theory about that Liam scene that I will talk about next. I'm more in the camp of Violet being a distance wielder. Rebecca wouldn't have mentioned that there hadn't been a distance wielder in a very long time for no reason, and there are MULTIPLE times Violet has seemed to travel faster than possible. Like when she skipped out of Battle Brief and flew to Xaden's post, a usual 12-hour flight, in half the time. Or when she saw Mira and others arrive Aretia, and Violet runs to get to her first, she describes running so fast that her feet barely skim the ground. She is know for her speed when fighting. It decides to train to run faster early on in the book, and does.

  • Another theory out there is that Violet is an amplifier. That she is able to amplify others signets around her. There are lots of examples of this. Like when Violet needed Ri to retrieve the dagger from her flight jacket before Varrish found it, and she managed to do it through a door for the first time. Or Mira's shielding abilities suddenly working beyond the wards when next to Violet and in desperate need. Brennan mending a wardstone, something he wasn't even aware he was capable of, but again, in a time of desperate need. I don't think this is her second signet, but I think it's her first signet. She is called a lightning wielder, but her signet is actually raw power. Lightning is just her most comfortable way of calling on that power. But I think when she needs it, it manifests itself to suit her needs unconsciously.

  • OKAY! Back to that theory with the pin in it. Violet talking to the dead. I don't think this has anything to do with signets. I don't think it has anything to do with dragons or venin. I think Violet is wholly unique because in some way, she is connected to the Gods. To one or all, I don't know. How she is, I don't know. I just think she is. I think her white hair is connected to this theory as well. While I think it would be cool to have an ability that involves resurrection, I think that would be too easy a plot device. I'm going to take Liam for his word, when he tells Violet that Malek sent him as a kindness, and while Violet thinks that Malek doesn't do kind things, there is something about Violet that he is willing to do certain things for.

  • There is going to be a separation at some point in the third or fourth book. Xaden became venin because he loves Violet, and wanted to save her. I know the next book they will be looking for a cure, but I will not be surprised if something happened where Xaden draws more power from the ground, or he accidently draws power from Violet and hurts her, and he leaves to keep her safe from him.

  • There are a lot of theories out there about Violet's parentage, specifically around who she knows to be her father. I don't think there is any merit to them personally. I think her father is her biological father. Lilith said he was "the love of her life", so why would she sleep with someone else? Unless it was rape? I don't think it was. While Violet is set apart from her siblings, I don't think it has anything to do with a secret father. It has all to do with the pregnancy. All we know is that Lilith was so sick during the pregnancy that she almost died. My personal theory on this is that either Lilith or Violet's father turned venin to save Lilith/Violet from whatever was killing her. After all, why else would Lilith have been looking for a cure for venin.

  • I have no theories on the rune that is on Brennan's hand, but I do think that Naolin didn't die when he saved Brennan's life. All he said was that he "lost everything". To draw on that much power, to save Brennan's life, he must have become venin. We will see him again.

Brennan: “You’ve barely said a word, you know.”

Brennan tilts his head just like he used to when he was trying to solve a problem.

Brennan: ““It’s kind of creepy.”

Violet: “Watching me eat is creepy,”

I counter after I swallow, my voice still a little hoarse.

Brennan: ““And?”

Tairn: “And what would you have done with the knowledge had he shared it?

Violet: “Stop bringing logic into an emotional argument.”

Xaden: “I alone am responsible for Violet.”

Xaden’s voice lowers in pure malice.

Xaden: “And if I’m not enough, there are not one but two dragons who have already vouched for her integrity.”

Enough is enough.

Violet: She is standing right here,”

I snap, and an unflattering amount of satisfaction courses through me at the number of jaws that drop in front of me.

Violet: “So stop talking about me and try talking to me.”

A corner of Xaden’s mouth rises, and the pride that flashes through his expression is unmistakable.

Brennan: ““Yeah, well, Dad always tried to tell us.”

Brennan’s voice softens.

Brennan: ““In a world of dragon riders, gryphon fliers, and dark wielders…”

Violet: “It’s the scribes who hold all the power.”

Turns out, falling in love with someone only brings that blissful high all the poets talk about if they love you back. And if they keep secrets that jeopardize everyone and everything you hold dear? Love doesn’t even have the decency to die. It just transforms into abject misery. That’s what this ache in my chest is: misery.

Because love, at it's root, is hope. Hope for tomorrow. Hope for what could be. Hope that the someone you've entrusted your everything to wwill cradle and protect it. And hope? That shit is harder to kill than a dragon.

Violet: “Hey! That’s my brother,”

I warn her, putting myself between them.

Brennan: ““She’s aware,”

Brennan mutters.

Brennan: ““Just doesn’t like me. Never has.”

Violet: “Don’t take it personally,”

I say right to her face.

Violet: “She doesn’t like anyone but Xaden, and she only tolerates me, though I’m growing on her.”

Sgael: “Like a tumor,

Tairn: "We need to get her back to the Vale so she can enter the Dreamless Sleep and finish the growth process. I should warn you before she wakes that this is a notoriously…perilous age.”

Violet: “For her? Is she in danger?”

My gaze swings to Tairn for the length of a terrorizing heartbeat.

Tairn: “No, just everyone around her. There’s a reason adolescents don’t bond, either. They don’t have the patience for humans. Or elders. Or logic,”

he grumbles.

Violet: “So, the same as humans.”

A teenager. Fabulous.

Tairn: “Except with teeth and, eventually, fire.”

Violet: “If there’s a morningstartail on her—”

Tairn: “Tails are a matter of choice and need.

He huffs indignantly.

Tairn: “Don’t they teach you anything?

Violet: “You’re not exactly a notoriously open species.”

Brennan: ““You don’t think she’ll kill you? She threw you into the Riders Quadrant!”

Fine, he has me there.

Violet: “Yeah, she did, and guess what? I became a rider."

Violet: “You’re alive. You kept us all alive. How could I be disappointed?”

My chest tightens as I stare into her unblinking eyes, choosing my next words carefully.

Violet: “We always knew that gift would only last as long as you were little, and you, my dearest, are no longer little.”

A growl rumbles in her chest, and my eyebrows shoot up.

Violet: “Are you…feeling okay?”

What the hell did I say to deserve that?


Tairn grumbles.

Violet:Can you fly her back to the Vale? She’s…huge.”

Tairn: “I’ve killed lesser riders for that kind of insult.

Violet: “So dramatic.

Tairn: "Neither species has ever been entirely truthful, both using the other for their own reasons and nothing more.

Violet: “It never occurred to me to hide anything from you.

Tairn does that weird thing that makes his neck appear boneless, swinging his head around to level slightly narrowed eyes at me for a heartbeat before turning his attention back to the terrain.

Tairn: I can do nothing to remedy the last nine months besides answer your worthwhile questions now.”

Violet: “I know,

Tairn: “A rolling dismount would tear you limb from limb on impact,”

Andarna: “You don’t know that,”

Andarna counters with what seems to be her new default form of conversation—telling Tairn he’s wrong. A growl rumbles through Tairn’s chest, vibrating the saddle beneath me and the harness that holds Andarna to his chest.

Violet:I’d watch it,

I tell her, biting back a smile.

Violet: He might get tired and drop you.”

Andarna: “His pride would never allow it.”

Tairn: “Says the dragon who spent twenty minutes refusing to put on her harness,”

Tairn fires back.

Violet: “All right, kids, let’s not argue.”

Violet: “Talking that way feels a little too…”

Gods, why is this so hard? It feels like every inch I sacrificed for in the last year when it comes to Xaden has been erased, putting us back at the starting line of an obstacle course I’m not sure either one of us ever chose to run. I shrug.

Violet: “Intimate.”

Xaden: “And we’re not intimate?”

He lifts his brows.

Xaden: “Because I can think of more than one occasion that you’ve been wrapped around—”

I jolt forward and cover his mouth with my hand.

Violet: “Don’t.”

Violet: “Don’t say anything else.”

I shake my head.

Violet: “Not until I can protect myself from Dain.”

Xaden: “Honestly, I’ve considered scrapping the plan and just throwing him off the parapet.”

Violet: “If the last few weeks have shown you anything, it should be that I don’t run from truth, no matter how hard it is or what it costs.”

Xaden: “Yeah, well, it cost me you.”

My whole body tenses and his eyes slam shut.

Xaden: “Shit. I shouldn’t have said that.”

Violet: “I can forgive you for keeping me in the dark before today. You did it to save lives, possibly even mine. But it’s complete and total honesty from now on, or…”

Gods, am I going to have to say it? Am I really about to issue an ultimatum to Xaden-fucking-Riorson?

Xaden: “Or what?”

He leans in, his eyes sharpening.

Violet: “Or I’ll get busy unfalling for you,”

I spit out. Surprise flares in his eyes a second before a corner of his mouth lifts into a smirk.

Xaden: “Good luck with that. I tried it for a good five months. Let me know how it works out for you.”

Garrick: “I really fucking hope you’re right about this,”

Garrick says to Xaden as we face the open door.

Garrick: It would be unfortunate to make it all three years and then die on graduation day.”

Xaden: “I’m right.”

Xaden walks out and we all follow, stepping into the sunlight.

Captain Fitzgibbon: “Garrick Tavis. Xaden Riorson.”

Captain Fitzgibbons’s voice carries over the formation as he reads from the death roll.

Xaden: “Well, this is awkward,”

Xaden calls out.

Colonel Aetos’s cheeks grow increasingly red with every step we take, his gaze skimming our party of eight, no doubt taking note of who’s here and who isn’t.

My mother locks eyes with me for one heartbeat, a side of her mouth tilting upward in an expression I’m almost scared to call…pride, before she quickly masks it, resuming the professional distance she’s maintained impeccably for the last year. One heartbeat. That’s all it takes for me to know that I’m right. There’s no anger in her eyes—no fear or shock, either. Just relief.

She wasn’t in on Aetos’s plan. I know it with every fiber of my being.

Mom: “You survived a knife wound after being thrown into combat as a first-year,”

Violet: “I did.”

She nods, a satisfied half smile curving her mouth for all of a heartbeat.

Mom: “Maybe you’re more like me than I gave you credit for.”

Xaden: “I promised your brother I’d handle the other Aetos.”

Violet: “I can handle Dain.”

A swift kick to the balls wouldn’t be uncalled for, would it?

Xaden: “We tried your way last year. Now we try mine.”

Imogen lifts her eyebrows but doesn’t say anything.

Dain: “Violet!”

Dain breaks formation, moving toward us as we reach Second Squad, Flame Section. The worry and relief that etch the lines of his face make power prickle in my hands.

Xaden: “You cannot kill him here,”

Xaden warns.

Dain: “You’re alive! We’d heard—”

Dain reaches for me, and I recoil.

Violet: “Touch me and I swear to the gods, I’ll cut your fucking hands off and let the quadrant sort you out in the next round of challenges, Dain Aetos.”

My words earn more than a couple of gasps, but I don’t give a shit who hears me.

Xaden:Violence, indeed.”

The hint of amusement in Xaden’s tone doesn’t reach his face.

Dain: "You going to threaten to kill me, Riorson?”

he retorts, the disgust on his face so similar to his father’s that my stomach sours.

Xaden: “No.”

Xaden shakes his head.

Xaden: “Why should I, when Sorrengail is perfectly capable of doing that herself? She doesn’t want you to touch her. Pretty sure everyone in the quadrant heard her. That should be enough for you to keep your hands to yourself.”

He leans in, his whisper barely reaching my ears.

Xaden: “But in case it’s not, every time you think of reaching for her face, I want you to remember one word.”

Dain: “And what is that?”

Dain seethes.

Xaden: “Athebyne.”

Rhiannon: “That was…interesting,”

Rhiannon whispers at my side, her eyes puffy and red.

Nadine: “That was hot,”

Nadine comments from in front of us, standing beside Sawyer.

Imogen: "Love triangles can get so fucking awkward, don't you think?"

Xaden: “Having fun?”

he asks, pushing through my shields with annoying ease. A shiver of awareness rushes over my skin. Mixing alcohol and Xaden is definitely not a good idea. Or is it the best idea?

Xaden: “Whatever is going through that beautiful mind, I’m here for it.”

Violet: “You look…”

I sigh, because it’s not like I’ve ever been successful lying to him, and the fuzziness in my head isn’t helping.

Violet: “Good in officer flight leathers.”

Xaden: “They’re almost exactly like cadet ones.”

A corner of his mouth lifts, but it’s not quite a smile.

Violet: “Didn’t say you didn’t look good in those, too.”

Xaden: "You’re…”

He tilts his head at me.

Xaden: “Drunk, aren’t you?”

Violet: “I’m pleasantly fuddled but not entirely sloshed.”

Xaden: “I’ll earn your trust as soon as you realize you don’t need full disclosure. You only have to have the guts to start asking the questions you actually want answers to. Don’t worry about the bed. We’ll get back there. The anticipation is good for us.”

He smiles—really fucking smiles—and it almost makes me rethink my decision.

Violet: “I tell you we’re not together because you won’t give me the one thing I need—honesty—and you counter with ‘it’s good for us’?”

I scoff and walk down the stairs and past two of the marble pillars in the rotunda.

Violet: “The arrogance.”

Xaden: “Confidence is not arrogance. I don’t lose the fights I pick. And we’re both allowed to have boundaries. You’re not the only one who gets to set the rules in this relationship.”

I bristle at the implication that I’m the problem here.

Violet: “And you’re picking a fight with me?”

The world tips slightly when I look up at him.

Xaden: “Picking a fight for you. There’s a difference.”

Violet: “Cadet Sorrengail,”

I correct the Colonel. Vice commandant? Fucking great.

Varrish: “The general’s daughter,”

Varrish responds, looking me over in clear appraisal, his attention snagging on every dagger I have within reach.

Varrish: “Fascinating. I’d heard you were too fragile to survive a year in the quadrant.”

Violet: “My presence would suggest otherwise.”

What a dick.

Violet: “They’ll only have hours together every time they make the flight.”

Xaden: “Yeah. She’s pretty pissed.”

Violet: “Tairn, too.”

I reach out for Andarna in case she hasn’t drifted off yet.

Andarna: You’ve lost all touch with reality if you think I’m getting close to him right now,”

she responds, her voice gritty from sleep.

Andarna: “He’s in a mood.

Xaden: "Trust me yet?”

My heart jolts. I can almost taste his kiss, and gods, I want it.

Violet: “With my life,”

I whisper.

Xaden: “That’s all?”

His mouth hovers above mine, all promise and no delivery.

Violet: “That’s all.”

Trust is earned, and he isn’t even trying.

Xaden: “Too bad,”

he whispers, lifting his head.

Xaden: “But like I said, anticipation is a good thing.”

Violet: "I have every right to walk right back into the gathering hall and pick whomever I want to warm my bed. Someone a little more ordinary.”

It’s a bluff. Maybe. Or alcohol. Or maybe I just want him to feel the same uncertainty I do.

Xaden: “You absolutely have every right, but you won’t.”

He gives me a slow smile.

Violet: “Because you’re impossible to replace?”

It does not come out as a compliment. At least that’s what I tell myself.

Xaden: “Because you still love me.”

The certainty in his eyes pricks every inch of my temper.

Violet: “Fuck off and leave, Riorson.”

Xaden: “I would, but you’ve got a death grip on me.”

He glances between our bodies.

Violet: “Ugh!”

I drop my hands from his waist and step back.

Violet: “Go.”

Xaden: “See you in seven days, Violence.”

He backs away, moving toward the tunnel that leads to the flight field.

Xaden: “Try not to burn the place down while I’m gone.”

It is one thing to cross the parapet your first year. But watching countless candidates lose their life to it feels a little like dying, too. Don’t watch if you can help it.

—Page Eighty-Four, the Book of Brennan

Nadine: “It’s not raining like it was during our Parapet.”

Nadine looks up at the cloudless July sky and wipes the sweat off her forehead with the back of her hand.

Nadine: “Hopefully more of them make it across.”

She glances my way.

Nadine: “You’d have thought your mother would have held off the storm last year, considering you were crossing.”

Violet: “Clearly you don’t know my mother.”

She wouldn’t call the storm to kill me like a coward, but she sure as hell wouldn’t stop it to save me, either.

Maybe then I can address the three books on the craft of weaving fabric into traditional Tyrrish knots he left for me—strips of fabric included—on the desk of my new room on the second-year floor. It’s not like I need a hobby.

But the note Xaden left on the stack of books? The one that read I meant what I said on the parapet. Even when I’m not with you, there’s only you. That needed no explanation.

He’s fighting.

Rhiannon: “Don’t even get me started this morning, Aetos.”

She looks up from her perfectly numbered scroll and raises a finger.

Rhiannon:“And if you even think about telling me to call you, I’ll remind you that Riorson did a hell of a job without needing everyone to supplicate themselves to him.”

Nadine: “Because he scared the shit out of everyone. Well, everyone except Violet.”

I fight my smile and lose as Dain tenses, clearly at a loss for words.

Violet: They look so young,

I tell Tairn, shifting my weight on the wall and wishing I’d been a little more careful wrapping my left knee this morning. Sweat has already loosened the brace, and the slipping fabric annoys the shit out of me.

Tairn: So did you,

Violet: “I think he got the message,”

Tairn: “If Solas comes near you again, he knows I will devour his human whole and let him rot within me while his heart still beats, and then I’ll take the eye I so graciously left him.

Violet: “That’s…graphic.

Tairn: “Shields,”

Tairn growls, and I build them back up.

Violet: “I didn’t even notice they’d slipped.”

Tairn: “They should be like clothes at this point,”

he lectures, snapping a little more than usual.

Violet: I’m sorry?”

Tairn: “Surely you’d feel a breeze were you to forget putting them on.

Sloane: “I want her instead,”

Sloane says, pointing a dagger at me. She has to be kidding. But she’s not. Sighing, I cross my arms and shake my head at Liam’s little sister.

Imogen: “Gods, Sloane.”

Imogen snorts, laughing off to the right, where she watches with Quinn.

Imogen: “You really feel like dying on your first day?”

Rhiannon: “Did she compliment you?”

Violet: “Oddly enough, I think so.”

Sloane: “I can take her,”

Sloane fires back, white-knuckling her knife.

Sloane: “From what your letter said last year, her joints pop right out. How hard can it be?”

Violet: “Seriously?”

I shoot a reproachful look at Imogen.

Imogen: “I can explain.”

Imogen puts her hand over her heart.

Imogen: “You see, I didn’t like you last year, remember? You’re kind of an acquired taste.”

Violet: “Great. I appreciate that,”

I quip back sarcastically.

Emetterio: “You’re concussed. Want to skip the rest of the session?”

He drops his hand from my face and holds me steady by gripping my arms when I sway.

Violet: “No.”

I’m not leaving assessment day the same way I did last year.

Imogen: “I’ve got her,”

Imogen says, taking my elbow. Emetterio’s mouth purses, his dark eyes narrowing.

Imogen: “I’m not going to try and kill her this year. Promise.”

She draws me to her side but doesn’t hold on to me, just lets me lean a little. Fine, a lot.

Emetterio: “You were just strangled, Cadet Sorrengail,”

Violet: “Not the first time,”

Violet: “I’m not fighting with you about your question game tonight.”

I shoot a glare his way, spotting the two tomes Jesinia loaned me on the bookshelf next to him. But any thought of telling him about my research disappeared at his reminder that I’m not granted the full truth when it comes to him.

Xaden: “Wanting you to ask what you want to know isn’t a game. You and me? Not a game.”

Xaden: “It’s your room, Violet.”

His eyes track the movement of the brush through my hair, and the way his fingers curl in his lap makes me swallow. Hard.

Xaden: “The room is warded to let in whomever you pull through.”

He clears his throat and shifts his weight as I finish another pass with the brush.

Xaden: “And selfishly, me.”

I fucking love your hair. If you ever want to bring me to my knees or win an argument, just let it down. I’ll get the point.

Xaden: “How many candidates fell this year?”

He pulls out a folded paper, then closes the bag.

Violet: “Too many.”

Even now I can hear some of their screams.

Xaden: “It’s always too many.”

He sits on my bed again, this time close enough that my knees brush his thigh.

Xaden: “And it’s okay that you couldn’t watch the younger ones die. It means you’re still you.”

Xaden: “The first year is when some of us lose our lives,”

he says softly, tucking my damp hair behind my ear.

Xaden: “The second year is when the rest of us lose our humanity. It’s all part of the process of turning us into effective weapons, and don’t forget for a second that’s the mission here.”

Violet: “Let me guess—warded for sound and to let in you, me, and anyone you tug through?”

The idea of him using that soundproofing for breaking armoires with someone else is enough to curdle the soup in my stomach. We might not be together, but jealousy’s not exactly a rational emotion.

Xaden: “No, Violet.”

He lifts both swords overhead, then slips them into the sheaths on the pack behind him with practiced expertise and a hint of a smirk.

Xaden: “Just you and me.”

Violet: “And we aren’t friends?”

Imogen: “We’re…”

Her face scrunches.

Imogen: “Coconspirators with a vested interest in keeping each other alive.”

That only makes me smile bigger.

Violet: “Oh, don’t go getting soft on me now.”

Jesinia: “I’m not going to try to kill her,”

Jesinia signs, her brown eyes widening.

Jesinia: “I wouldn’t even know how.”

Imogen: “Violet knew how to kill just fine on a scribe’s education,”

Imogen replies, her hands moving quickly. Jesinia blinks. I lift my brows at Imogen.

Imogen: “Fine,”

she replies, signing as she backs away.

Imogen: “But if she comes at you with a sharpened quill, don’t blame me.”

Varrish: “Quite the necklace you have there.”

He points to the greenish bruises on my throat.

Violet: “Thank you. It was expensive.”

I lift my chin.

Violet: “Cost someone their life.”

Bodhi: “What are the chances that you’ll forget I said that between here and Samara?”

Violet: “None.”

I stumble on a rock, or my feelings, but manage to catch my balance. Physically, at least. My thoughts? Those are tripping over themselves down the path of wondering who Catriona is. An older rider? Someone from Aretia?

Bodhi: “Right.”

He rubs the back of his neck and sighs.

Bodhi: “Not even the tiniest bit of a chance? Because the thing about the deal you two have with your dragons is that he’ll be back here next week, and I’m not remotely in the mood to have my ass kicked after fending off another assassination attempt.”

Sgaeyl watched me kill another cadet for bullying Garrick during Threshing. She says she chose me for my ruthlessness, but I think I just reminded her of my grandfather.

—Recovered Correspondence of Lieutenant Xaden Riorson to Cadet Violet Sorrengail

Violet: “Stop playing around and end it,”

I say through our bond, using it for the first time since Resson.

Xaden: “Always so violent.”

Violet: “Hypothetically, if I wanted you to kiss me but only kiss me—”

I start. His mouth is on mine before I finish.

Yes. This is exactly what I need. My lips part for him, and there’s no hesitation in the glide of his tongue against mine. He groans, and the sound reverberates through my very bones as I wrap my arms around his neck.

Home. Gods, he tastes like home.

He’s gravity, pulling me back to him by the force of his existence.

Xaden: “I’m more than willing to let you burn me.

Xaden: “Violet.”

It’s part plea, part moan, and the war in his eyes makes my chest tighten.

Xaden: “You have no idea how badly I want to peel these pants off your amazing ass and fuck you until you’re hoarse from screaming my name, so limp from orgasms that you can’t fathom leaving my bed ever again, and every tree around here goes up in flames from lightning strikes.”

His hand slides from behind my head to the nape of my neck.

Xaden: “Until you remember exactly how good we are together.”

Violet: “I never forgot.”

It’s a whimper. My body is still humming.

Xaden: “I’m not talking about physically.”

Xaden: “I want you more than my next breath, but I can’t fuck you into looking at me like you used to. I refuse to use sex as a tool to get you back.”

He takes my hand and presses it to my chest.

Xaden: “Not when I want to be here.”

Xaden: "I’m a fucking fool for saying this, but when haven’t I been a fool when it comes to you?”

Violet: “Excuse me?”

His memory must be faulty, because I’m the one who’s been the fool for him.

Xaden: “Let me get this out.”

He glances at my mouth.

Xaden: “I’ll kiss you whenever you want because my self-control is shit where you’re involved—”

Violet: “Whenever I want?”

My brows shoot up. What the hell is happening right now?

Xaden: “Yes, whenever you want, because I’ll live with my mouth attached to yours if I do it whenever I want.”

He retreats a couple of steps, and I immediately miss the feel of his hands, the warmth of his skin.

Xaden: “But I’m begging you, Violet. Don’t offer me your body unless you’re offering me everything. I want you more than I want to fuck you. I want those three little words back.”

I stare at him, my mouth dropping open slightly. He’s not asking to hear that I want him. He wants to hear that I love him.

Xaden: “It’s new territory for me, too.”

He rakes his hands through his hair.

Xaden: “No one is more surprised than I am, trust me.”

Violet: “I’m sorry, but weren’t you the one last year who said we could have all the sex we wanted as long as we kept feelings out of it?”

I fold my arms across my chest.

Xaden: “See? Fucking fool.”

Mirabel: “Your mother is terrifying,”

The scribe glances between us before putting pencil to parchment again. I nod.

Violet: “That’s one of her more prominent qualities.”

My dad hoped I’d go into the infantry like he did.

He thought riders were pompous pricks, and in his defense…we really are.

Recovered Correspondence of Lieutenant Xaden Riorson to Cadet Violet Sorrengail

Violet: “I did that for your brother,”

I tell Sloane, keeping eye contact even though the hatred shining through hers hurts like hell.

Violet: “He was one of my closest friends, and I promised him while he was fucking dying that I’d look after you. So here I am, looking after you.”

Sloane: “I don’t need—”

Imogen: “Wrong tactic. ‘Thank you’ is appropriate.”

Sloane: “I’m not thanking her,”

she seethes, her eyes narrowing on me.

Sloane: “He’d be here if not for you.”

Imogen: “That’s some bullshit! Xaden ordered—”

Violet: “You’re right. He would. And I miss him every single day. And because of the love I have for him, it’s okay that you hate me. You can think whatever you need to about me if it gets you through the day, Sloane. But you’re going to train. You’re going to accept help.”

Imogen: “You. Are…”

Imogen shakes her head as she catches up to me.

Imogen: “I see it now.”

Violet: “What?”

Imogen: “Why Xaden fell for you.”

I scoff.

Imogen: “Truthfully.”

She puts her hands up.

Imogen: “You’re fucking clever. Way more clever than I gave you credit for. I bet you keep him constantly annoyed.”

A smile beams across her face.

Imogen: “How glorious.”

I roll my eyes at her.

Violet: “Before last year, I never would have considered that the safest place in the world was on the back of a dragon.”

Tairn: “Before last year, I might have seen you as an appetizer.

Imogen: “That’s just…weird,”

Imogen says, her brow furrowing as her gaze scans the hallway for threats.

Violet: “It is.”

I do the same, watching every pair of hands I can see.

Violet: “The timing of the last two weeks is just too coincidental for it not to be on purpose.”

Imogen: “Oh no, that part is completely understandable.”

She side-eyes me.

Imogen: “Separating you two would be my first move if I was in a position of power. On your own, you’re both capable of terrifying things with those signets. Together? You’re a fucking menace. I mean it’s weird that he’s writing you letters.”

Violet: “Why? I think it’s…sweet.”

Imogen: “Exactly. Does he strike you as a letters kind of guy?”

She shakes her head.

Imogen: “He’s not even a talking kind of guy.”

Violet: “All right, let’s say that you’re with someone, and one day a battle-ax comes hurtling out of his armoire—”

Imogen: “An armoire? I really wish you’d go back to confiding in Rhiannon.”

She shakes her head.

Violet: “—and nearly kills you. Wouldn’t you demand to see the rest of the armoire to make sure there are no other battle-axes poised to strike before getting back together with them?”

We’re almost to the lecture hall.

Imogen: “There’s always a battle-ax.”

As we pass the doorway, she nods to Eya, who is chatting with Bodhi, and my eyes flare at her black eye and what looks to be a broken nose.

Violet: “Because that’s normal?”

Imogen: “You didn’t want normal. If you did, you’d be in a relationship with Aetos.”

She shudders.

Imogen: “Or hell, anyone else in this place. But you wanted Riorson. If you didn’t think the man was hiding more than a few battle-axes, then you’re mad at the wrong person, because you lied to yourself.”

Imogen: “Oh, look, our time is up.”

She sighs in obvious relief.

Violet: “Helpful.”

I miss talking to Rhi.

Imogen: “You want actual, meaningful advice?”

She takes my elbow and tugs me to the side of the staircase, where the third-years stand.

Imogen: “Fine. Everyone fails land nav the first time. We’re egotistical assholes who can’t handle being wrong. The instructor just wants you to feel bad about it, which is clearly working. Not to mention that you have bigger issues to worry about than a man, like how you’re going to survive the rest of RSC, including the interrogation portions where they will beat the shit out of you for fun, or like, I don’t know…going to war. And you asked if I wanted to talk about your relationship, which implies that you damn well know you’re still in one—”

I bristle.

Violet: “That’s not—”

Imogen: “I’m still speaking.”

What in Amari’s name am I doing?

Tairn: You’ve apparently lost all common sense with your control and regressed to where you think you can locate it,

Fair point. Not that I’m telling him that.

Tairn: “Just did.”

Xaden: “Hello to you, too.”

Violet: “Hi,”

I respond, my voice softening. The elation of seeing him is tempered by the shadows under his eyes.

Violet: “Sorry, I just wasn’t expecting you to make it until noon, if they even let you come and— You look…exhausted.”

Even his movements are slower. Not by much, but I notice.

Xaden: “That’s what every man wants to hear.”

He sets his swords by the door and drops his pack right next to them. Like it’s where they go. Like this room is partly his, too. Like his room at Samara feels like it’s mine. Neither of us has ever asked for separate quarters. Maybe I can’t fully trust him, but I also can’t stand to be away from him.

Violet: “I didn’t say you aren’t beautiful. I implied that you need a nap.”

I nod toward my empty bed.

Violet: “You should sleep.”

His slow smile stops my heart.

Xaden: “You think I’m beautiful?”

Violet: “Like you don’t already know that.”

I roll my eyes and flip the page in The Journey of the First Six, a Secondhand Account, averting my gaze.

Violet: “I also think you smell like you’ve been flying for twelve hours.”

It’s not exactly true, but maybe it will check the already enormous ego I just inflated.

Xaden: “Gods, I missed you.”

Xaden: "I thought they were going to find a way to send you on maneuvers today, or just lock you away.”

Violet: “Me too.”

Awareness spreads through every part of my body as I lock eyes with him.

Violet: “I’m sure they’ll find a dark cellar for you next week, so we should try to enjoy this one.”

Xaden: “You and I have different definitions of the word ‘enjoy.’”

He gestures to the books scattered on my floor.

Violet: “Not really.”

I scan the page quickly and flip to the next.

Violet: “I think spending the day tangled up in that bed together would be enjoyable, but since you drew your line, here I am with boring, sexless books.”

Xaden: “Say those three little words, and I’ll have you naked in seconds.”

He looks at me with so much heat that I do a double take when I glance up, my breath catching.

Violet: “I want you.”

All day. Every day.

 Xaden: Those are not the three words I need.”

Violet: “You don’t really smell,”

I whisper, loath to let him out of my sight for even a second.

Xaden: “Get any closer, and you’ll take that back.”

Xaden: “Brennan told you we have a wardstone.”

His words are clipped, controlled. The shadows begin moving like hands, gathering all the books around me but the one I’m holding and stacking them.

Xaden: “I’m going to fucking kill him.”

Violet: “Why? Because he’s more forthcoming with me than you are?”

I close the book.

Violet: “Relax, it’s not like he gave me your journal or something.”

Xaden: “I don’t keep one, but that would have been far preferable,”

Rhiannon: “I didn’t realize you were here today, Lieutenant Riorson.”

She glances over at me.

Rhiannon: “Vi, we were going to ask if you wanted to come to Chantara with us—”

Xaden: “She’s busy,”

Xaden responds, clasping my hand.

Violet: “Don’t be an ass.”

I yank my hand from his.

Ridoc: “Whoa.”

Ridoc’s eyebrows rise as I turn toward Xaden.

Violet:I’ve done exactly what you asked. I kept everything from my friends.”

I glare into the depths of his soul.

Violet: “So don’t be an asshole to them.

Xaden: “Exactly what I’ve asked?

He leans down, bringing his face within a breath of mine.

Xaden:By keeping your research a secret?

My jaw drops.

Violet: “Are you really going to stand here and compare secrets with me?

Xaden:It’s not the same.

He winces.

Violet:It’s exactly the same!

 I grip the strap of the bag to keep from jabbing him in the chest with my finger. How fucking dare he.

Violet:I’m researching the wards for you.

Xaden: “Why do you think I’m so angry?

The tension in his eyes, his posture, his tone equals mine.

Violet:Because you don’t like being on the other side of secrets.

Sawyer: “What the hell is going on?”

Ridoc: “I…uh…”

Ridoc scratches the top of his head.

Ridoc: “I think they’re fighting.”

Xaden: “That has… How long have you been hiding this from me?

Rhiannon: “They’re not even…speaking,”

Violet: “I haven’t hidden shit from you. I’ve simply told you selective truths.”

He draws back like I’ve hit him.

Violet: “Sorry, guys.”

I turn to my friends.

Violet: “Trust me, there’s nothing I would rather do than go to Chantara with you, but unfortunately, I have to run an errand. Next weekend?”

Xaden: “You’ll be in Samara.”

Xaden folds his arms across his chest. How is it possible to both love someone and loathe them all in the same moment? Rhiannon looks between the two of us, then settles her attention on me.

Rhiannon: “Then the weekend after,”

 I nod. Her brow knits in wordless question.

Violet: “I’m fine. I promise. You guys have a great time.”

I force a smile.

Violet: “I’ll let you know if I need your help burying a body later.”

Ridoc sputters into a cough, and Sawyer pounds him on the back.

Rhiannon: “I think she might mean you,”

Rhiannon says as she gives Xaden an arch look.

Xaden: “I’m certain she does.”

Sawyer: “Let’s go,”

Sawyer says, leading the three of them out of the doorway.

Rhiannon: “I’ll do it, too,”

Rhiannon says over her shoulder.

Rhiannon: “I’ve never moved anything as big as you, but I bet my signet could put you in the ground without even disturbing the dirt if I’m pissed enough.”

Violet: “Fine. You can come with me if you agree not to scare her.”

Xaden: “I can’t control her feelings.”

He scoffs. I arch a single brow.

Xaden: “I just want to meet her.”

He lifts his hands, palms outward.

Violet: “So you can see if she’s trustworthy? By looking at her? Even you aren’t that powerful.”

I open the door and step out into the hallway.

Violet: “Let’s go.”

Xaden: “I’ll know. I’m an incredible judge of character.”

Tairn: “That will not be happening.”

Tairn’s head lowers fully, and his body crouches into a defensive position.

Rhiannon: “What is going on?”

Rhi asks, her gaze jumping between Varrish and me as she walks back over to me.

Varrish: “Obviously, her first punishment wasn’t enough to teach your subordinate, Squad Leader Matthias, so she requires another.”

He blinks, tilting his head.

Varrish: “And as the vice commandant, I don’t owe you an explanation. Now mount up for maneuvers before you’re punished alongside her.”

Tairn: “There will be no punishment!

Tairn roars, and from the abrupt head jerks of the dragons on the field, including Solas, everyone heard him.

Tairn: “It is not within your power to summon a dragon.

It takes a second for thoughts to relay through riders, and Varrish stiffens.

Varrish: “Your dragon may not fall under my command, Sorrengail, but you do. So unless you’d like to further explore that delicate space between burnout and death, you will mount and present yourself—”

Tairn: “Even the smallest dragon does not answer to the most powerful of humans, which you are not.

Tairn snaps his teeth, the sound carrying over the valley.

Feirge’s head draws back, and her golden eyes widen.

Tairn: Andarna does not answer to you.

Tairn stalks forward, his head and chest so low to the ground that he nearly touches my hair, and Varrish retreats.

Tairn:I do not answer to you.”

In the years after my father died, I forgot what it felt like to be loved.

Then I entered the quadrant and became the monster everyone needed me to be, and I never regretted it.

But then you gave those words to me, and I remembered…and nearly lost you, too. I’m striving to be better for you just like I promised, but I need you to know that monster is still there, screaming to use every ruthless part of me to get your words back.

—Recovered Correspondence of Lieutenant Xaden Riorson to Cadet Violet Sorrengail

Violet: “I can’t believe you allowed someone up here to secure the bags. I’m impressed with your restraint.”

Tairn: “The section leader attached the bags to the saddle before I put it on, naturally.”

Violet: “And here I was thinking you’d evolved.”

Violet: “Go find Sgaeyl,

I urge Tairn, heading across the field of trampled grass toward the looming fortress.

Tairn:I’ll wait until you’re inside as always.

Violet: “You’re wasting time.”

I can feel his anticipation singing through my bloodstream, but I don’t block it out. At least one of us is happy. The thing that happens later? That, I’ll block out like my life depends on it.

Tairn: Then walk faster.

Xaden: “I’m going to have to force your hand and I’m sorry,”

he says quickly as he approaches, cutting through my shields like they’re nothing but lace where he’s concerned.

Violet: What else is new?”

I pause, noting that everyone between us gets out of his way.

Xaden: You have about two seconds to decide if you want time to talk in private tonight.

He’s less than a dozen feet from me.

Violet:Not sure you want to be alone with me, considering what I’m carrying.

I bristle. That’s the first thing he has to say to me after the way he cut out last week?

Xaden: Choose.”

Violet: “Yes. Of course I want to talk to you in private.”

Xaden: “Tell me to kiss you. Even if it’s just for show.

There are only heartbeats between us now, and he’s not slowing.


Xaden: “Now, Violet. Or you’ll be sleeping in someone else’s room tonight.

The look in his eyes demands an instant answer. Right. Because he told me months ago he’d only kiss me when I asked him to. He reaches for me, one hand sliding to the back of my neck and the other bracing my waist as our bodies collide.

The impact sends every sense reeling.

Violet:Kiss me.”

Just for show.

Xaden: “I missed you,”

he says a second before his mouth crashes into mine.

Violet: "You walked out on me."

I accuse, nipping the soft skin of his bottom lip with my teeth.

Xaden: "Fight later."

His hand slides along my face, and he presses his thumb just above my chin.

Xaden: "Now kiss me like you mean it."

Violet: "Since you asked so nicely."

Gods, I fucking want him. Just like this. Just us.

Xaden: Violet.”

It’s a mental groan as his mouth thoroughly lays claim to mine.

Mira: “Oh for fuck’s sake.”

A familiar voice intrudes on my own little piece of heaven, and that’s when I remember. This is supposed to be for show, and here I am, completely losing myself in him. In the middle of the courtyard. In front of gods only know who. And that weightless feeling? It’s because I’m anchored against his chest by one of his strong arms, my feet dangling off the ground.

Violet:Good enough show for you?

I draw back slowly, dragging my teeth across his bottom lip before releasing him.

Xaden:Fuck the show.

His eyes flare with the same heat that has me ready to combust. At least I’m not the only one losing control. I know that look on his face. He’s just as turned on as I am. He kisses me again, losing his polished finesse in favor of untamed demand, and I melt.

Mira: “Put my sister down, Riorson. You made your point.”

Mira: “Oh, no. You’re in love with him, aren’t you?”

Violet: “You can’t possibly know that just by looking at me,”

I counter, my spine stiffening.

Mira: “Ugh. Let’s go throw knives at shit.”

Violet: “You’re worried about the interrogation portion,”

I guess, sheathing the eleventh dagger at my ribs.

Mira: “They’re going to beat you black and blue just to see if you can take it.”

She plucks my dagger from the throat of her target.

Mira: “And the way you break—”

Violet: “I can handle pain. I live in pain. I practically built a house there and set up a whole economy. I can take whatever they dish out.”

Xaden: “I haven’t exactly made it easy for you to trust me,”

he says, stroking his thumb over my cheek.

Xaden: “I’m still not making it easy. But you and I are not easy people. What we build together has to be strong enough to withstand a storm. Or a war. Easy isn’t going to give that to us.”

Violet: “Tell me something real.”

It comes out as a plea, just like it did last year. He sighs and curls around me.

Xaden: “I know who you really are, Violet. Even when you keep things from me, I know you,”

Xaden: “Now go to sleep before I forget all my honorable intentions.”

Violet: “I could remind you of some very fun, very dishonorable ones.”

I lean back into him, and he throws his leg over mine, locking me down tight.

Xaden: “You want to give me those three little words?”

I stiffen.

Violet: “I thought not. Sleep, Violet.”

His arm tightens around me.

Xaden: “You love me,”

Violet: “Stop reminding me. I thought we agreed not to fight tonight.”

I snuggle in deeper, his warmth lulling me into that sweet middle space between wakefulness and oblivion.

Xaden: “Maybe you’re not the one I’m reminding.”

Ridoc: “Can’t you ask your mom?”

Ridoc tilts his head.

Violet: “The woman who knew I was missing for a week, then told me to get back in formation when she realized I’d survived my first combat mission? Yeah, I’m sure she’ll be forthcoming with all the information.”

I give him a sarcastic thumbs-up.

Aaric: “The guards were the hardest to slip, too. They won’t tell my father they’ve lost me until they absolutely have to. I’m just hoping it’s after Threshing. He can’t do shit after Threshing. Dragons don’t even answer to kings.”

Violet: “Oh shit.”

My chest feels like it’s caving in as I grab hold of his good arm, halting our steps before the tunnel.

Violet: “You know, don’t you?”

He lifts a brow, the mage lights catching on those royally green eyes.

Aaric/Cam: “Why else would I be here?”

Violet: “You can’t protect me from this any more than you could Threshing,”

I tell Xaden, stepping out from the shelter of his body.

Violet:You know it’s true.”

Xaden: “You weren’t mine at Threshing,”

Violet: “Sgaeyl!”

I reach out through the one pathway I avoid at almost every cost.

Violet: They’re going to cancel next week’s leave if he doesn’t relent.”

Grady: “How hurt are you?”

Violet: “Dislocated my shoulder last week,”

Sgaeyl: “I chose him for his inability to relent,”

Violet: “Not helpful at the moment. Do I need to remind you of what he’s carrying?

Sgaeyl: “Fine. But only so this conversation ends.”

Xaden: “Violence, remember it’s only the body that’s fragile. You are unbreakable.”

Violet: “Unbreakable,”

Everyone looks my way. Here we go.

Violet: “I’m in love with Xaden Riorson.”

Mira. Them. I seem to be able to say the words to anyone who isn’t Xaden.

Ridoc: “Hate to break it to you, but that’s not a secret,”

Ridoc says, shaking his head.

Violet: “Yes, it is,”

I argue, my grip tightening on the mug.

Sawyer: “No, it’s really not.”

Rhiannon: “Hasn’t been for a while,”

Rhi adds, giving me the first real smile I’ve seen from her in weeks.

Rhiannon: “You’re going to have to do better than that.”

Woman: “Quite the mouth for a general’s daughter,”

Violet: “Who do you think I got it from?”

Varrish: “You could learn what it is she sees in him,”

Varrish whispers, getting closer to Dain.

Varrish: “Why she chose him over you. Don’t you want to know? All the answers are right there. You just have to know where to reach.”

Have to give it to him, he’s convincing as fuck.

Violet: “I’m fine, thanks for asking.”

Tairn: “Of course you are. I chose well.”

Ridoc: “That’s…harsh.”

Violet: “That’s Markham. You think only riders can be vicious? Words are just as capable of eviscerating someone as a blade, and he’s a master.”

I wrap my arms around him and shove my face into his neck, breathing in deep. He smells like mint and leather and mine— For fuck’s sake, am I scenting him?

Xaden: “Who the fuck’s flight jacket are you wearing?”

Violet: “Really?”

I throw my arms out, happily letting the warmth soak into me.

Violet: “It has third-year rank, Fourth Wing insignia, and a section leader designation. Who the hell’s jacket do you think I’m wearing?”

His jaw ticks, water streaming down his face.

Violet: “It’s Bodhi’s, you territorial asshole!”

That answer doesn’t seem to help.

Violet: “Are you serious right now?”

I unbutton the fucking jacket and tug at the sleeves, but leather is a bitch when wet, and it takes a moment to yank it free.

Violet: “I ran out of Battle Brief the second Devera clued me in that you’d been wounded. Yes, I left without leave. Then I flew eight hours at breakneck speed with an absolutely irrational Tairn, who thought if you’d been hurt, then Sgaeyl could have been, too. And now you pull some possessive, jealous, whose-jacket-is-that bullshit just because your cousin knew I was so panicked that I wouldn’t stop for my own flight leathers?”

I flat-out glare at his nonsensical ass and drop the jacket to the floor.

Violet: “You can fuck right off!”

A corner of his mouth turns up.

Xaden: “You were worried about me?”

Violet: “Not anymore, I’m not.”

I see red. How can he find this amusing?

Xaden: “But you were.”

Xaden: “And you’re wrong about me. I wouldn’t have waited for all the information—or even proof—if I’d heard you’d been hurt.”

This time, I don’t step away when he reaches for me. His arm winds around my waist, and his hand splays on the small of my back to guide us out of the water’s direct spray. The inches between us are both a gift and a curse as he leans in.

Xaden: “I’m not always calm or collected, and I’m never in control when it comes to you.”

Xaden: “Even now, I’m not doing what I should.”

His words come out clipped.

Violet: “Which is?”

Xaden: “Hauling your ass to the mat until you’re a hot, sweaty, aching mess from a dozen rounds of sparring.”

His jaw ticks.

Xaden: “Because I warned you never to put your life at risk over something as trivial as talking to me, and yet you did just that. Again.”

Violet: “I’m down with everything but the sparring.”

Shit. That comes out breathless.

Violet: “And it’s not up to you to punish me anymore. I’m no longer in your chain of command.”

Xaden: “Oh, I know. And somehow it was a hell of a lot easier on us both when you were. You want full disclosure when it comes to me, right? How is this for open?”

His gaze drops to my mouth.

Xaden: “I would have done the same thing you did because I’m just as reckless for you as you are for me.”

Xaden: “You were worried for me.”

The first time he said it came out amused. The second sounded happy. But this time, his tone shifts as if it’s a revelation.

Violet: “Of course I was worried for you.”

He draws me forward slowly, giving me every chance to object before bringing our bodies flush. The heat of him soaks into every chilled part of me, and all the burning worry I’d felt on the flight here and the searing anger that followed transforms into an entirely different—and far more dangerous—form of heat. Fuck, I want him. I want to touch every inch of his skin, feel his heartbeat against mine in assurance that he’s really all right. I want his body over me, inside me, as close as humanly possible. I want him to make me forget there’s anything beyond this room or the two of us.

Xaden: “And you flew here without even stopping to get your leathers.”

He lowers his head inch by torturously slow inch. I nod.

Xaden: “Because you still love me,”

he whispers against my lips a heartbeat before he kisses me.

Xaden: “I want you exactly how you are, emotions and all. I want the woman I fell for. It kills me every time I have to keep my hands off you, every night I lie awake next to you, both blessed and damned with the memory of how hot, how wet, how fucking perfect you feel when I’m losing myself in you.”

My lips part and heat flushes my skin as if his words are an actual caress.

Xaden: “When I do sleep, I dream of the sounds you make right before you come and the way the blue in your eyes outshines the amber right after, all sated and hazy. I wake up starving for you—only you—even on the mornings you’re halfway across the kingdom. This isn’t me denying you or manipulating you. This is me fighting for you.”

Xaden: “Gods, look at you. You are all I’m ever going to want. Just you. Just this. Just us.”

I’ll die if he makes me wait any longer. I won’t survive another breath without him inside me.

Xaden: “I need you more, Violet.”

He cradles the side of my face and rolls his hips, pushing inside, stretching me as he consumes those first sensitive inches.

Xaden: “However much you think you need this, need me—I need you more.”

Violet: “Harder. Deeper.”

I’m breathing too hard to speak.

Violet:Don’t treat me like I’m breakable.”

Xaden: “I know exactly how much you can take.”

Xaden: “More. I want everything, Violet.”

Violet: “You have it.”

I love him. I love him. I love him. I’m not ready to give him the words, the power that comes with them, but I can keep them for myself, chant them like my own personal Codex, the only truth I’m certain of.

His body tightens beneath mine, his thrusts coming harder as he curls an arm around me, hooking my shoulder and pulling me into every thrust.

Xaden: “Let go.”

He shifts his angle, rubbing against my clit with the next thrust.

Violet: “I don’t want it to end.”

I can hear the note of panic in my voice, the sharp note of fear that this will be the only time I feel like this, the only time he’s mine. But the waves are coming closer with every roll of our hips, and my muscles tighten to the point of locking.

Xaden: “Violet.”

His hand slides from my shoulder to the back of my neck, fisting in the long strands of my hair as he looks into my eyes like he can see straight to my soul.

Xaden: “I can’t give this up. I won’t give you up. Now let go.”

Xaden: “Just when I think I can handle you, I completely fucking lose it.”

Violet: “That’s my favorite part.”

Xaden: “Why does that not surprise me?”

Xaden: “We have options.”

He caresses the side of my face and studies my eyes.

Xaden: “First, we can stay right here and go again. Second, we can clean up, get dressed, and sneak up to my room, where we can go again. Or third… we can clean up, find a water wielder to dry our clothes, get you into one of my flight jackets, and fly to the rendezvous to drop the daggers—”

I’m up and running, grabbing for my clothes before he can even finish. Of course I’m going with him.

Xaden: “I’m guessing that’s a no to options one and two?”

he says with a disappointed sigh.

Tairn: “This is an unnecessary risk.

Violet: “One Xaden and Sgaeyl take all the time.

I stop fighting the wind and lean forward as he dives, grinning into the wind.

Tairn: The shadow wielder is not my concern.

Violet: “Sgaeyl is.”

The saddle’s straps dig into my thighs, a constant reminder that I can’t keep my seat without it.

Tairn:Sgaeyl would never be taken down by something as puny as a gryphon.”

He scoffs.

Tairn:And as for losing the shadow wielder, she would be emotionally inconvenienced, that is true.

I scoff at his bluster.

Violet:An emotional inconvenience? Is that what I am to you?

If so, then we don’t need to worry that my death would cause Tairn’s, or Sgaeyl’s and Xaden’s.

Tairn:You’re currently a prize annoyance.”

Syrena: “Tell your dragon he’s still the scariest fucking thing I’ve ever seen, Sorrengail.”

Violet: “I would, but it would just inflate his ego,”

I reply, settling back in the saddle as Xaden runs up Sgaeyl’s foreleg to mount.

Violet: “Stay alive, Syrena. I’m starting to like you.”

There’s no logical reason for me to feel this ugly twist of irrational—

Shit. What is this? Jealousy? Anxiety? Insecurity?

Tairn:All three,. To which I will remind you that not a single dragon chose her. You were selected by two. Pull yourself together.”

Xaden: “Are we going to have to spend our last few hours together talking about Cat?”

Violet: “No.”

I wind my arms around his neck.

Violet: “Not unless you’d like to spend them talking about my previous lovers.”

His focus drops to my mouth.

Xaden: “I would much rather choose our previous option number two, where we head up to my bedchamber and use our time judiciously.”

Violet: “Solid plan,”

I agree, my body heating at the mere suggestion.

Violet:But we are going to have to talk about Viscount Tecarus.”

Xaden: “Fuck. I’d almost rather talk about our exes.”

His focus shifts back to mine.

Xaden: “Who are your exes? Do I know them?”

Xaden: “I won’t risk it. Won’t risk you.”

Violet: “Doesn’t seem like it’s your risk to take,”

I say softly. He needs that luminary, but maybe if I can get the wards up, that will buy us some time.

Xaden: “I told you in Aretia—I would rather lose this entire war than live without you.”

Tairn: “Our departure was more my fault than yours. I will not stand for you to bear my punishment.

Violet: “Stop being sweet. It’s disturbing.”

Violet: “I’ll tell you if my punishment includes death or inconvenience.

Tairn: “I will already know, as I am continuously with you. Forced to bear witness to the awkwardness that is twenty-one-year-old humans.”

Violet: “I’ll strive to make it less awkward.

Tairn: “Could you do so, I would think you would have done it already.

Kaori: “Did I just hear you order your…aides, or whatever it is you’re calling them, to strip a cadet?”

Varrish: “It’s a jacket. She’s in violation of Article Seven, Section Three, which states that impersonating a commissioned officer—”

Violet: “It’s Article Two, actually,”

I interrupt, folding my arms across my chest. The shoulder has way more give to it than what I’d expect, but I’m not foolish enough to draw attention to it by glancing down again.

Violet: “And it says impersonating a commissioned officer is a punishable offense, not wearing someone’s flight jacket. As you can see, I’m not wearing anyone’s name tag, nor am I claiming to be someone I’m not.”

Kaori: “She has you there, Vice Commandant.”

Kaori tucks his book under his arm.

Kaori: “And since when do we search cadets’ bags?”

Varrish: “Since I took over as vice commandant.”

Varrish lifts his head, standing to his full height.

Varrish: “This doesn’t involve you, Kaori.”

Kaori: “Nevertheless, I’ll be staying. Power must always be kept in check, don’t you think, Major Varrish?”

Varrish: “Are you accusing me of abusing my power where this cadet is concerned, Colonel Kaori?”

Varrish moves to step toward us, but my bag is in the way.

Kaori: “Oh, no.”

Kaori shakes his head.

Kaori: “I think you abuse your power in general.”

Violet: “You’re not going to argue? Or tell me there’s another way?”

Xaden: “Me? Argue with you about books?”

He shakes his head, sliding his hand to my cheek.

Xaden: “I only pick fights I can win.”

Xaden dips his chin once, then yanks open the door. Ridoc and Sawyer stagger forward, then slam into the wards and fall to the hallway floor. My hand flies to my face as I smother a laugh.

Xaden: “It’s soundproof when the door is closed, assholes."

Looking closely, I can see the faint lines of the metal track it spins on.

Violet: “Amazing,”

I whisper. How many of these little hidden wonders exist around here?

Violet: “What?”

I hiss at Xaden when I catch him looking at me.

Xaden: “I feel like I’m looking at what could have been.”

Violet: “And?”

The secret entrance clicks into place, halting its rotation.

Xaden: “You look better in black,”

Xaden whispers, his lips brushing the shell of my ear and eliciting a shiver of awareness despite our current situation.

I close my eyes, draw a deep breath, and find my center. Then I open them and step back from the shelves.

Violet: “‘In the storage of ancient documents,’”

I recite from the Scribe Manual,

Violet: “‘it is not only temperature and touch that must be monitored—’”

Aaric: “Glad to see you haven’t changed that much.”

Aaric’s mouth curves into the first smile I’ve seen from him in years.

Violet: “‘—but light.’”

I glance up.

Violet: “‘Light will steal ink’s pigment and crack the leather of spine and cover.’”

Aaric: “One time, I heard her recite the entire unification agreement while climbing the battlements in Calldyr,”

Aaric notes, moving to the top of the next bookcase. Light. They’d have to be hidden from light. I start searching for track marks in the floor that might signal another hidden door, or cubby, or something.

Xaden: “Thought we weren’t talking,”

Aaric: “Wasn’t talking to you.”

He glances at Imogen.

Imogen: “So, it’s not all marked ones you hate,”

she replies, folding her arms across her chest.

Aaric: “Why would I hate you?”

Aaric puts the tome back.

Aaric: “Your parents led a righteous rebellion, and from what I can tell, you’re just trying to do the same. I hate him for killing my brother.”

Imogen: “Fair enough.”

Imogen starts to tap her foot.

My last words with my father before the Battle of Aretia were spoken in anger, because he was sending me away for my own safety. I’m not sure I’ll ever forgive myself for that, but I like to think he forgives me.

—Recovered Correspondence of Lieutenant Xaden Riorson to Cadet Violet Sorrengail

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

Violet: 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.

Liam: “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.

Liam: “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.”

Violet: 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.

Liam: “He will.”

Violet: “Don’t leave me,”

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.

Liam: “I won’t. I swear.”

Liam: “I’m here. And I still don’t regret it, Vi. Not one second.”

Varrish groans and our heads all whip in his direction.

Varrish: “You’re turning traitor?”

he accuses Dain as he struggles to his feet, still holding the wound in his side.

Garrick: “Oh, is that what’s happening?”

Garrick asks, looking between Dain and Varrish.

Varrish: “Your father will be so disappointed,”

Varrish hisses through bloody, clenched teeth. Coughing up blood means he doesn’t have long.

Dain: “If he already knows what Violet showed me, then I’m the one disappointed in him,”

Xaden: "We’re leaving. I’m getting you the fuck out of here.”

I blink.

Violet: “We can’t go now. They’ll follow us, and Brennan’s not ready.”

My face crumples.

Violet: “You’ll forfeit access to Basgiath’s weapons—”

Xaden: “I don’t give a fuck. We’ll figure it out once we’re there.”

Violet: “You’ll lose everything you’ve worked for.”

My voice breaks.

Violet: “Because of me.”

Xaden: “Then I’ll have everything I need.”

He lowers his face, leaning in so he’s all I see, all I feel.

Xaden: “I will happily watch Aretia burn to the fucking ground again if it means you live.”

Violet: “You don’t mean that.”

He loves his home. He’s done everything to protect his home.

Xaden: “I do. I’m sorry if you expect me to do the noble thing. I warned you. I’m not sweet or soft or kind, and you fell anyway. This is what you get, Violet—me. The good, the bad, the unforgivable. All of it. I am yours.”

Xaden: “You want to know something true? Something real? I love you. I’m in love with you. I have been since the night the snow fell in your hair and you kissed me for the first time. I’m grateful my life is tied to yours because it means I won’t have to face a day without you in it. My heart only beats as long as yours does, and when you die, I’ll meet Malek at your side. It’s a damned good thing that you love me, too, because you’re stuck with me in this life and every other that could possibly follow.”

My lips part. It’s all I’ve ever wanted, ever needed to hear.

Violet: “I do love you,”

I admit in a whisper.

Xaden: “Glad you didn’t forget.”

Violet: “I can walk. I think.”

But the second I try, the room tilts. And for the first time in my life, I feel weak. That’s what that monster did to me in this room. He took my strength.

Liam: “But he didn’t break you, Violet,” Liam says softly from the corner of the room, and my chest squeezes tight as he takes a step back toward the shadows.

Mom: “Who did you kill?”

She directs the question at Xaden.

Xaden: “Everyone,”

Mom: “You of all people know the lengths I’ll go to in order to protect her. And since I’m pretty sure you’re the reason we’re getting reports of dragons dropping wyvern carcasses at every outpost we have along our border, the reason this college is emptying itself of most of the leadership in a rush to contain the problem, the least you can do is give me a chance to say goodbye to her.”

Xaden: “She’s a fucking monster.”

His voice is soft, but it carries.

Violet: “She’s my mother.”

Xaden: “Aetos, did you decide to follow?”

Dain: “Apparently,”

Xaden: “Then fucking follow,”

Mom: "Markham saw you as his protégé, the next head of the scribes, the only applicant he thought smart enough, clever enough to continue weaving the complicated blindfold chosen for us hundreds of years ago.”

She scoffs.

Mom: “He made the mistake of thinking you’d be easy to control, but I know my daughter.”

Violet: “I’m sure you think that.”

Each step is a battle, jarring my bones and testing my joints. Everything feels abominably loose yet so tight I might split open from the pressure.

Mom: “I might be a stranger to you, Violet, but you are far from a stranger to me.

Mom: "Why did you think I forced you into the Riders Quadrant?”

Violet: “Because you think less of the scribes,”

Mom: “Bullshit. The love of my life was a scribe.”

Mom: “And so the war of the father becomes that of the son. It is you, right? Stealing the weaponry? Arming the very enemy trying to rip us apart?”

Xaden: “Regret letting me into the quadrant yet?”

He keeps his voice deceptively calm, but there are shadows rising along the tunnel walls.

Mom: “No.”