Dark Magick Rising (Draegan Lords Book 5) by M.L. Rhodes
Copyright 2019 by M.L. Rhodes, All Rights Reserved
When Wesley had finally opened his eyes, he was himself, much to Wen’s relief. At least he appeared to be, on the surface. Except for one troubling issue… He didn’t remember what had befallen him the night before.
“We’re where?” Wesley asked, his shock rippling along the gossamer thread of emotional connection between them. The connection Wen had made a point of reestablishing as quickly as he could while Wesley slept.
“We’re a couple of hours from camp,” Wen said for a second time. He looked up from where he crouched, stoking the fire, and gazed at Wesley with concern.
Wesley had dressed in the clothes and boots Wen had brought him, then wrapped himself back up in Wen’s cloak and the blanket. But his energy had quickly waned, and he’d sat down on one of the low boulders next to the fire while Wen coaxed a bit more heat from the flames. In spite of the fact the black streaks and other evidence of the magick affliction had gone, Wesley still didn’t look like he felt well. Dark circles lingered under his eyes, and he seemed to wince with each movement, as if his body ached.
“We’re outside the magick barrier?”
Wen nodded. “I tracked you here.”
Wesley seemed genuinely thrown by their location. He’d been disoriented since he woke, but Wen had attributed it to him being unconscious for who knew how long. He’d figured once Wesley was awake for a while, his confusion would clear. This, however, seemed to be more than that.
“But…how did I get through the barrier? I can’t open it myself.”
“I was kind of hoping you could tell me how you got through it. I didn’t see any tracks besides yours where you crossed it, nothing to indicate someone else was there to open a door for you.”
“I…” Wesley let out a slow, shaky breath, and worry clouded his eyes—eyes that had returned to their natural warm brown color, thank the gods. “I have no idea. I…I don’t even remember being at the barrier, much less going through it.”
“Do you remember leaving the tent last night?”
Wesley shook his head.
“Do you remember getting to the stream out here where I found you?”
“No.” Wesley swallowed hard and averted his gaze from Wen to study a patch of brambly bushes jutting up through the snow.
“Nothing at all?” Wen pressed.
He tried to keep his tone gentle because, honestly, Wesley looked so spooked right now he didn’t want to cause him to shut down completely. But how could Wes have no memory of where he’d been or what he’d done? Was it part of the dark magick, or did Wesley remember more than he let on but he was afraid to tell Wen? And how had Wesley managed to fight off the magick and recover during the hours he was out here?
So many questions, but apparently no immediate answers, since Wesley only shook his head yet again.
Fear rippled along their connection now, and Wen wasn’t sure if it was Wesley’s or his. Especially when Wes’s gaze once more shot to him and grew even more haunted. As he looked at Wen, he flinched like he’d just sensed Wen’s misgivings and it had caused him physical pain.
Damn it. The last thing Wen wanted was to have Wesley think he feared him—because he didn’t. What he feared was not knowing what had happened to Wes. If he truly couldn’t remember anything about it, then how could they know what kind of magick had taken him over? And even more disquieting, how could they know if he was truly better or if something dark still lingered within him?
Once again Wen thought of the blood…
“Wen, please. Gods, don’t look at me like that, like you don’t trust me. I wish I had answers. I wish I could tell you, but everything’s a blur, and I…I just don’t know.” He leaned forward, covering his face with his hands.
Feeling Wesley’s pain and concern as if they were his own, Wen crossed over and knelt in front of him. Resting one hand on Wesley’s knee, he cupped his cheek in the other and lifted his face until their gazes met.
“Of course I trust you, Wes. With my life.” He leaned in and pressed a kiss against Wesley’s chilly lips, then rubbed his thumb over his cheek. “I’m just concerned about you. You were so ill, so…not yourself last night. What’s the last thing you do recall?”
Wesley shivered and pulled the blanket more tightly around him. “Being so damned cold, with my stomach roiling. And then…and then getting into bed with you.”
“Do you remember telling me about your talk with Iann and Jarrad?”
Wesley shrugged. “And then…nothing. I guess I fell asleep. And beyond that, all I get are flashes of darkness. And…and pain.” He grimaced, as if reliving the feeling. “Until I woke up here.”
“How do you feel now?”
“Still cold. Confused.” He dragged in a shuddering breath and his face crumpled. “Scared,” he half-whispered, his voice ragged. “What was I doing out here, Wen? Did I leave while you were sleeping? Is that why you didn’t know where I was and had to track me?”
“You… Yeah. I was…kind of out of it.”
Wen debated about whether or not to tell him what had actually happened. About the black streaks that had spread over his skin, about his eyes changing, his anger, how he’d shoved Wen not once, but twice, and the reason Wen hadn’t stopped him from leaving the tent was because he’d blacked out from the blow to his head. But seeing how upset Wesley was, feeling his ragged emotions and insecurity, gave Wen pause.
In that moment he decided, for better or worse, now wasn’t the time to tell Wesley that, for a while, he’d turned into something…other. He was afraid it would only traumatize Wesley even more. And, gods, he didn’t want that.
“Here…” Wen dug in his pack and handed Wesley some dried meat. “Try to eat something. It might give you a little more energy.”
Wesley made a face, shuddered, then pushed away Wen’s hand. “Ugh. I…I don’t think I can eat anything right now. The thought of food…” He shuddered again.
The sights Wen had seen on his search for Wesley once again filled his mind.
No. Stop dwelling on it. You don’t know for sure.
“Okay.” He wrapped the meat back in its protective cloth and returned it to his pack. This time, instead, he pulled out a flask. “At least take a few sips of this.”
Looking for all the world like it was the last thing he wanted, Wesley accepted the flask, opened it, and quickly downed a couple of swallows before Wen could warn him. He immediately began coughing.
“Holy gods!” he choked out. “That is not spiced wine like I was expecting.”
“Sorry. I should have given you a heads up.”
“You think?” Wesley asked, his voice still hoarse. “What in hel is it?”
“Taladarian reglash. Traders come through every now and then with it. Guaranteed to warm you and put hair on your chest, or so my dad used to say.”
Wesley shook his head, but a faint smile crossed his face.
The sight caused a spark of warmth to blossom in Wen’s heart. It was the first time he’d seen Wes smile since yesterday morning, before he’d left the tent to speak to Iann.
Wesley took another swallow, grimaced, but didn’t cough this time. “I don’t know about chest hair,” he said, as he handed the flask back to Wen, “but my throat feels like it’s on fire.”
“Give it a second and you’ll feel it all the way into your stomach. And trust me, when you do, you won’t be cold anymore.”
A moment later, Wesley let out a surprised breath and his startled gaze met Wen’s. “Holy gods.”
Wen smiled. “Told you.” He took a swallow of the reglash himself, before tucking the flask back into his pack.
Then he leaned down to press a kiss against the top of Wesley’s head.
But Wesley had other ideas. His hands slid up to curl around Wen’s neck, and he pulled him down into a real kiss instead, with a desperate whimper, as if he badly needed the contact.
Since Wen wanted nothing more right now than to make Wes feel better, he let Wesley take what he needed.
Their tongues met and mated for several long seconds, letting the rest of the world disappear while they reconnected.
When Wen finally eased away, Wesley moaned softly in protest. “Don’t stop.”
Wen smiled again. “It’s too damned cold out here, love, and you’re still not fully warmed up. But if you want to save that thought until we get back to the tent…” He raised a teasing eyebrow.
As he’d hoped, Wesley gave him another smile. “Stubborn ass.” His cheeks were finally starting to get a blush of pink on them instead of being as pale as the snow.
“No, just a practical one. You can thank me later for saving your bollocks from freezing off.” Then he held out his hand to Wesley. “If you’re feeling well enough to travel, we should probably start back toward camp.”
Wesley sighed and nodded, letting Wen lever him to his feet.
Wen gave him a minute to warm his hands at the fire before he kicked snow on it to put it out. Wesley helped, but he’d gone quiet again. Too quiet. Wen could almost feel the thoughts churning in his head, and after the brief, lighthearted reprieve, he once again sensed a cloud of worry descend over Wesley.
Wen wanted to comfort him, but he was worried, too. And not just about Wesley. He was also concerned about the fact they were more than two hours from camp, deep into territory that could easily be patrolled by Byram’s soldiers. Wen hadn’t seen any signs of their presence in his search for Wesley, but that didn’t mean they couldn’t run across a patrol any time. And with Wesley not at a hundred percent, and only Wen’s weapons between them—because, damn it, in his rush to go after Wesley, Wen hadn’t thought to grab Wesley’s weapons as well as his own—Wen would rest easier once they were safely back within the boundaries of the camp.
As Wen picked up his pack and shouldered it, Wes spoke behind him. “Rowen…”
The uncertainty in his voice and the new wave of fear radiating off him instantly had Wen turning to face him. He took one look at Wesley’s troubled expression and pulled him into an embrace. “It’s okay. It’s going to be okay.”
“Is it?” Wesley murmured against his neck. “It doesn’t feel like it is. There’s so much darkness…”
Wen held him away from him enough he could see Wesley’s face again. “What do you mean, love?”
“Can’t you feel it? First, you almost died. And then I took off into the night and have absolutely no memory of what I was doing or why. I managed to get outside the magick shield around the camp and we have no clue how that happened either. And then you find me unconscious here in the middle of nowhere. When you look at me now, and even when you’re not looking at me, I can feel your hesitation, like you think you have to be cautious around me and you can’t fully trust me.”
Wen tried to interrupt and argue, but Wesley cut him off before he could get out a word in defense. “It’s true. I know you believe you trust me, but something’s changed, and now you’re not certain about me.”
“No, Wes, I am certain about you. I’m just worried about you because you were so unwell. I was terrified I’d lost you when you… When you left the tent last night and I couldn’t find you.”
Wesley sighed. “We don’t know where I was or what I was doing, but we both know it wasn’t good. I feel…different somehow.”
“Different in what way?” Wen asked with growing concern. Gods, was the dark magick still brewing inside Wesley, as Wen had feared?
“I don’t know. I can’t explain it. But it’s not just that. I also feel…” He grimaced. “I keep feeling that something worse is coming. It’s like…like something’s vibrating in the air, around camp, around us all, and I want to make it stop, but I can’t. I keep trying to ignore it, but it’s there in my head. In my…in my senses. Fear and darkness, loss…and death.” Wesley dragged in another deep, shaking breath. “I don’t know what it means, Wen, but I can’t stop thinking about it. Feeling it. I’ve felt it ever since you were stabbed, like this huge, crushing weight pressing down on me. Like I’m going to suffocate from it, and I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to stop it.”
He pulled away from Wen and paced a few steps, then turned his back on Wen. His shoulders shook, and Wen heard a stifled sob.
Wen dropped his pack, crossed the distance between them in two strides, turned Wesley, and pulled him against him again in a full-body hug. “It’s going to be okay, m’caire.”
Even as he said it, though, he realized just how inane the words sounded. He felt Wesley’s emotions as strongly as if they were his own, and Wesley was in genuine distress. It wasn’t okay. None of this was okay.
Wesley was an empath; he sensed people’s emotions. Little was known of the ondaen, but it was possible Wesley’s empathic abilities were far stronger than Wen had realized. Strong enough Wesley could perhaps feel collective emotions, not just from individuals, but from a large group. The draegans, and the humans who shared their cause, were in a fight for their lives, and the high sorcerer’s control grew stronger all the time, as his reach grew longer. With the clock ticking every day, bringing them closer to full-out war, the emotions of the camp had to be running high.
Was it possible Wesley could pick up on all of that?
And then, layer on top of that his and Wesley’s own traumatic experiences over the past couple of days, and was it any wonder Wesley was struggling and feeling as if some impending doom lay just over the horizon?
“You’re right,” Wen murmured. “It’s not okay, and I’m sorry if me saying it will be makes you feel like I’m trying to sweep the troubling emotions you’re experiences under a rock and pretend they’re not there. I just want to help, I want to make you feel better, and that’s what keeps coming out of my mouth. But I do understand, Wes. I know you’re hurting, and I hate seeing you suffer.”
Wesley buried his face against Wen’s neck, and his arms slid around Wen’s waist under his cloak. His shoulders continued to shake, but no sound came from him. He suffered his pain in silence, but Wen felt it all. Felt it and wished he could ease it. He knew now for certain he couldn’t tell Wesley the full truth of what had happened during the past night. At least not yet. He had to find answers first, and then, maybe, he’d talk to Wes about it. But right now, that was the last thing Wesley needed to add to his inner chaos.
“Whatever it is, whatever is coming,” Wen said softly against the top of Wesley’s head, “we’ll face it together. As long as we stay together, we’re strong and we can weather any storm.”
“Any storm?” Wesley asked, drawing in a deep, hoarse sigh. “Because I don’t think we’ve seen the worst of any of this yet.”
“Yes. Any storm. All storms.” Wen held him away again and looked into Wesley’s emotional, damp eyes. “And, Wes, in spite of what you think, I do trust you.”
“But do you believe me?”
“I believe you sense things other people don’t. So, yes. But worrying about it, dreading it, won’t stop whatever it is from happening.”
“Then what are we supposed to do?”
“All we can do is stay strong. Have each other’s backs. Protect the draegan lords and the people who follow them, as we’ve sworn to do. And stay true of heart. To each other and to our people.”
Slowly, finally, Wesley nodded.
Wen brushed a hand over Wesley’s hair. Then he remembered something. He dug into the leather pouch he wore on his belt. “Here,” he said. “I found something that belongs to you.” He held up the leather cord with the silver medallion on it.
“The medallion your dad gave you,” he breathed. “I noticed it was gone. I was afraid I’d lost it and I felt sick inside.”
“Lost, but found.” Wen tied the leather cord back together, then slipped it over Wesley’s head. “Do you remember what it says?” The medallion had been engraved in Draega, the language of the draegans, but he’d told Wesley the translation when he’d given it to him.
“Cherish the unexpected because it can lead you to your heart,” Wesley said softly, fingering the metal disk.
“I found it this morning and it led me to my heart all over again. You are my heart, Wes. Don’t ever doubt that. No matter what happens.”
“I just want to be worthy of it, of you,” Wesley whispered.
“You are. Why would you question that?”
“Because we don’t know where or how… Because… What if—”
Wen cut him off by placing two fingers over his lips. “There are no what ifs that will make me stop loving you. None. We’re in this together”
“Okay,” Wesley murmured. But when he sighed and his shoulders slumped, Wen knew his words hadn’t fully convinced Wesley.
That was all right. Actions spoke louder than words anyway, and Wen had every intention of proving to Wesley that they were united. No matter what.