Dark Magick Rising (Draegan Lords Book 5) by M.L. Rhodes
Copyright 2019 by M.L. Rhodes, All Rights Reserved
“You two are kind of sickening, you know?”
Wesley turned to face Jarrad. “What’s going on with you? You’re being more of a git than usual.”
His serious tone seemed to catch Jarrad off guard. “I…I’m not.” He hesitated, then actually looked a little embarrassed. “I guess I’m just…”
Jarrad sighed and completely dropped his swagger. “I guess I’m just not used to having to share you.”
“Share me? What’s that supposed to mean?”
Jarrad shook his head and mumbled something Wesley couldn’t hear. Then he smiled, though it looked a bit forced. “Nothing. Just me being a git, like you said. I only mean, you and I used to spend more time together, but now you’re always with Wen, and I kind of miss getting to be the one you call an ass.”
At that, Wesley chuckled. “Don’t worry, Wen doesn’t hold the exclusive right to that title. I’m sure I can save a few for you.”
“Yeah, well, you better.” Jarrad’s grin turned cocky…and once again Wesley was struck at just how similar it was to Wen’s. Except he sensed something underneath Jarrad’s that felt a little like…was it envy? Sadness? But then those impressions faded, and once again Wesley had to wonder why he kept getting these fleeting scraps of emotion from Jarrad that he couldn’t quite figure out. But Jarrad had always been mercurial, so he chose to let it go.
Instead, he turned his attention back to their job. “It was quiet out here today, according to the previous guards,” he told Jarrad. “But that doesn’t mean we should assume it’ll stay quiet tonight.”
“Yeah, I always hate those damned rocks down in the valley when I’m at this post,” Jarrad said, slipping into work mode as well. “Feels like it’d be too easy for the sorcerer to hide troops down there. Especially after what happened with you and Wen several nights ago.”
“I know. I thought the same thing earlier. I assume you’ve got night vision like Wen does? And you’ll be able to see if anything’s moving down there?”
“Yeah. We can see heat patterns, so if anything moves, as long as it’s warmer than the night air—which shouldn’t be a problem tonight, ugh—I’ll be able to pick it up.”
“Good. I feel unsettled tonight for some reason.”
“Unsettled in what way?” Jarrad asked, looking at him curiously.
He honestly wasn’t sure. It could be his continued disquiet came from all the tension in the camp. Or it might be a direct result of his anxiety over his missing hours last night and the bits and scraps about it Wen had so far shared. Probably it was some of both. In either case, he wasn’t going to share those details with Jarrad
“I don’t know,” he said aloud, shrugging. He probably shouldn’t have even mentioned his unrest to Jarrad. “So…what’s this book that you’re supposed to swear me to secrecy over?” he asked, steering the topic in a different direction.
“Ah, the book,” Jarrad said, settling himself onto the same rock Wen had sat on earlier.
Wesley moved over to stand near him. As he did, he reached out to Wen through their link and could still feel him, faintly—he could tell Wen was getting farther away. He hoped he’d be able to maintain contact even after Wen got to the command tent, though he thought he might have to concentrate harder to stay linked, and he wasn’t sure he’d be able to do that and still pay attention here on duty. At least not yet. But it gave him something to work toward in the future.
It was kind of exhilarating to have this newfound ability, and he was eager to see just what all he could do with it. But right now, he kept just enough attention on the thread of connection to stay linked with Wen while he listened to Jarrad.
“So, I don’t know how much you know about how Lord Rizik came here to the camp.”
“I know he used to work for the sorcerer, then he left and joined the draegans.”
“Yeah, well, it was a little more complicated than that. He’s the son of the man who used to be the commander of Byram’s army—General Rizik.”
“I did know that much. Captain Rizik looks a lot like a younger version of his father, so I made the connection,” Wesley said. “I remember seeing General Rizik once. He was there when the village where I lived for several years was destroyed. He lit the fires himself that burned all the houses, and ran his sword through any who resisted him.” Wesley winced as he remembered that day, the horror of the things he’d seen. General Rizik’s image had been burned into his brain as a true monster.
When Wesley’d first seen the draegan lord’s mate, the resemblance had been so uncanny he’d been taken aback, thinking General Rizik had returned. But he’d quickly realized, because of Captain Rizik’s actions and demeanor, that he was nothing like his father.
“Yeah, General Rizik was pretty notorious for his brutality. Thankfully, Lord Rizik only shares his father’s looks and nothing else. You know he killed him, right? That Lord Rizik killed his own father?”
“I’ve heard rumors, but I don’t know what happened.”
“He killed him to save Lord Hareldson. But I’m getting ahead of myself. What you might not know is that before that happened, Lord Rizik was originally sent here by the sorcerer to infiltrate the camp and give the location to the sorcerer so he could destroy us.”
“He was a spy?”
“Yeah. He didn’t do it, though…give us up, I mean. He was already beginning to question the sorcerer and his methods, and once he got here and saw the draegans weren’t the bad guys the sorcerer wanted everyone to believe, he began to stall and mislead the sorcerer. Then he and Lord Hareldson fell hard for each other, found out they were true mates, and Lord Rizik openly turned against the sorcerer to stay with us. But Byram doesn’t take betrayal well. He kidnapped Lord Rizik, held him captive, and tortured him.”
“Holy gods,” Wesley said softly. He’d had no idea of any of this history.
“I don’t really know the details, but I do know it was bad. Even under torture Lord Rizik never betrayed us, though. Lord Hareldson went after him, alone, entered the sorcerer’s fortress, and got Lord Rizik back. But before they left the stronghold, Lord Rizik knew where Byram kept his grimoire—”
“Sorry, what’s a grimoire?”
“His book of magick, where he wrote down his spells and stuff. Lord Rizik had seen him writing in it before, so he and Lord Hareldson stole it and brought it back here, thinking it might give them some insight into the things Byram does.”
“They were hoping to find his weaknesses?”
“I think so, yeah. The problem was…” Jarrad shook his head. “The book was written in some language no one here had ever seen before. So it was basically useless. But then Lord Rizik had the vision about your settlement getting attacked, we went there, found you all and brought you back here. And it turned out Thomas was this scholarly person. So Lord Hareldson asked him to work on the book, to see if he could translate it.”
“The ‘project’ Thomas has been working on.”
Jarrad nodded. “He’s been at it for weeks and weeks, basically since you guys came here to live, muttering and mumbling to himself in the lords’ tent, and pretty much making Lord Hareldson grumpier and grumpier. But tonight, he claimed he’d finally managed to translate part of it.”
“Hence the meeting at the command tent.”
“Yeah. They’re all hoping to find some answers. But this is secret, Wesley. As far as I know, no one outside of the lords and their advisors, and Allend and I ’cause we’re always around, and now you, know about it. Lord Hareldson doesn’t want anyone to either get their hopes up, or to be afraid that the sorcerer’s spell book is in camp. The book is…well, it feels, I don’t know, evil. Just being around it, it sort of exudes an evil feeling. Or maybe that’s just because I know it’s the sorcerer’s. Anyway, not very many people know it’s here in camp.”
“I can keep a secret.” If only Jarrad knew just how good Wesley was at keeping secrets.
“So, does Thomas speak the old language that the book’s written in?” He knew Thomas was knowledgeable about many things, but didn’t know he spoke other languages besides the common tongue used by most folks in Velensperia.
“No. But I guess he knows enough about old history and stuff in general, he was able to piece it together. Or so he says. To be honest, I’m not sure how useful the book will be, even if Thomas really has translated part of it. If it’s filled with the sorcerer’s spells, I don’t see how that’s going to help us. We don’t want to use those spells. Draegans have our own magick, and the draegan lord’s is even more powerful. So I’m not sure why knowing the sorcerer’s spells could help.”
“Maybe they’re hoping there’s more in the book than just spells. He might have written down his plans as well. Or, even if it is only spells, knowing what the sorcerer has used could help figure out how to undo them. It might even help free people who the sorcerer’s bewitched or used magick to restrain.” He thought of his own parents, his ondaen parents, and how they’d been branded as the sorcerer’s slaves, and wondered if they’d been held by magick.
“Yeah, maybe,” Jarrad said. “I just hope after all Thomas’s muttering and working non-stop there’s something useful in the book. I’m tired of sitting here, waiting for Byram to pick us off one by one, or in small groups. I want to fight. I want to get out there and do something, be useful.”
“What we’re doing is useful,” Wesley said, thinking of all the people whose emotions he’d felt tonight, scared of being unprotected. “We have a whole camp of people who came here seeking protection and shelter, and keeping them safe is a priority. There aren’t many draegans left, and the sorcerer has preyed on humans as well. We’ve got many of both races right here, depending on us.”
Jarrad turned to look at him. “Bloody hel.”
“You’re sounding more and more like Wen. ‘It’s our duty, it’s our responsibility, to protect the members of the camp.’”
“Well, it is. There aren’t a lot of us, Jarrad, even with adding some of the new recruits, like me, to the draeganjhere. Every day more people join the camp, and it’s only going to continue. We’re spread thin. And these people are counting on us.”
“Oh gods. He’s completely indoctrinated you. You’re becoming just like him.”
“I’m not indoctrinated. It’s the truth. And there are far worse people to be like than your brother.”
Jarrad held up his hands in surrender. “Okay, okay, my brother’s a paragon of virtue. And, yeah, I know he’s right. But it doesn’t change the fact that sooner or later protecting these people in camp isn’t going to be enough. We’re going have to go to war, we’re going to have to fight, for real, and when that time comes, I’ll be more than ready to get out of here and do it.”
Wesley didn’t respond because he didn’t know what else to say. He just hoped when the time came Jarrad would exercise some caution and not go charging into danger with nothing but his fiery craving for action. Because something told Wes it would never be that simple.
He had a feeling waging war on High Sorcerer Byram was going to be more like an intricate game, with pieces laid out over a complicated board, each with their own set of moves, and all part of the sorcerer’s master plan. It would be a battle of wits and planning as much as a battle of swords and magick. And anyone who went into it without realizing how much the sorcerer was directing every move was apt to get killed sooner rather than later.
He and Jarrad settled into silence. Wesley wouldn’t call it a comfortable silence exactly—Jarrad still seemed tense—but it wasn’t uneasy either. Mostly, Jarrad seemed lost in his own thoughts, and, truthfully, Wesley was lost in his own.
He wondered if maybe the book—the grimoire, Jarrad had called it—might actually reveal more than just spells. Perhaps there might be something in it about people the sorcerer had enslaved…namely the ondaen. He knew, of course, that was just wishful thinking on his part. From what his mother—his human mother—had told him about finding his parents dead, and from seeing how the high sorcerer and his soldiers treated anyone who didn’t fall in line with him, Byram had little regard for anyone but himself. So the likelihood of him caring enough about any race, or any slave, to write about it in his book was almost nonexistent.
So what was in the book?
He reached out with his senses toward Wen. He could still feel him, but the contact was little more than a delicate thread at this point; there, but distant and diaphanous, and not solid enough for him to truly read Wen’s emotions. It was more like having a very basic sense of him rather than able to read any details.
He concentrated, trying to focus in and fine tune his ability…
But he couldn’t quite bring anything in particular into focus. Only a general sense of uneasiness from Wen and from the atmosphere around him. Whatever was going on, no one seemed to be happy about it. Without knowing specifics, though, all Wesley could do was take a stab in the dark in assuming things weren’t going well.
Minutes passed, then nearly an hour. The night was quiet and cold, and so was Wesley. He wished Wen were here for purely selfish reasons. The thought of snuggling with him wasn’t so funny now.
He shivered and hunched deeper into his cloak. He could see his breath, thanks to the freezing air. At this point, if he couldn’t have Wen, he’d even settle for some of Wen’s reglash, which had certainly created a burning ball of heat in his gut after he’d drunk it this morning. Unfortunately, he didn’t have that either.
He’d just tugged the hood of his cloak farther up over his head when the ground beneath his feet heaved.
“What in hel?” Jarrad croaked, rising from the rock. “Did you feel that?”
“I felt it.” If Jarrad hadn’t also experienced it, Wesley might have even wondered if it had been real or just his imagination.
But then it happened again. The earth rolled.
The motion unbalanced Jarrad and he fell onto the snowy ground. The only thing that kept the same thing from happening to Wesley was the tree next to him, to which he grabbed onto and clung.
The insanity stopped once more, but only for a second, before the earth shuddered again, this time even more violently, and it didn’t quit. It continued to heave and rock, causing the trees to make horrible groaning noises.
“Bloody hel, what is this?” Jarrad shouted.
Wesley couldn’t respond because, as the ground beneath him continued to shudder and rock, making him dizzy and off kilter, a dark, overwhelming sense of terror slammed into him. Hard. It pounded over and through him like a horrible, violent storm.
He cried out and inadvertently let go of the tree trunk. Without anything to keep him on his feet, he stumbled and fell to his hands and knees.
He heard Jarrad call out to him, but couldn’t respond. Pain coursed through his body. Far worse than anything he’d felt yesterday morning when he’d been so sick. This was the pain of horror. Of the worst nightmares. Of utter, paralyzing fear.
Gods! What’s happening?
It bombarded him from every direction, every angle, ripping his breath from him, making his head and heart pound like a blacksmith’s anvil. He could no longer hear Jarrad, though he felt certain Jarrad was still calling out to him.
He had…had to…
Breathe. Breathe, damn it.
He didn’t know whose voice he heard in his head. Maybe it was his own. But the words seeped through his haze of agony. He had…to get…control!
But it wasn’t that easy. He’d thought it was his own terror battering him, but bit by painful bit, he realized it wasn’t just his own, it was someone else’s as well. No, not someone’s…it was…agggh! It was everyone’s.
Holy gods. It was the whole camp’s.
Something…something awful was happening, and the whole camp felt it.
Trying to gather his fragmented thoughts, he focused on Wen. If he could…just…concentrate. Find Wen. Maybe he could shut out…the rest.
He closed his eyes and, struggling to breathe, to think, to exist, forced himself, little by agonizing little, to shut out everything but the faint thread of connection he still felt with Wen. It was a thin glimmer of light in the darkness that had swallowed him. He found it, grasped it, and followed it…
The terror still held him in its grip, but he concentrated with every part of his being on Wen, and it felt like he was creeping very, very slowly toward him. As he drew close, he realized Wen’s fear was as overwhelming as his own, like a fiery shadow swallowing the air around him, squeezing him, stealing his breath, much as it stole his own.
Wen’s horror was a live thing. And then Wesley realized the source of it was a live thing. He sensed a nightmarish dark hole, both terrible and massive, with black, shadowy threads exuding from it, like tentacles, spreading across the camp. But the worst of it was right there, near Wen.
Wesley was peripherally aware that everyone else in the command tent was under the same horrible shadow, but right now the only one he could focus on was Wen. Wesley desperately wanted to see him, touch him, but of course he couldn’t. All he could do was hang on to their emotional connection with a death grip and not let go.
Wen’s fear crashed over him in waves, leaving Wesley shaking harder than the ground.
The pain was unbearable, yet still he held on, using that one fixed point, his link with Wen, as his anchor. He was afraid that if he let go for even a second, he, or Wen, or maybe both of them would shatter permanently, as would the whole world around them.
And then, as quickly as it started, it was gone.
The nightmarish dark horror was just…gone. As if it had been swept back into the black hole from whence it came.
But in its place it left behind a vast, impossible sea of sorrow and grief.
Oh gods…these new emotions were almost worse than the terror, but in a different way. Wesley felt hollow and aching inside, as if someone had ripped out his guts, his soul, and left him empty and alone. He had no idea why, no idea what had happened, and on some level realized this new grief was Wen’s and…and someone else’s. Someone…gods, someone who was breaking inside. There were probably others as well, but he felt Wen’s because of their link, and the other person’s because it was so intense, so soul-shattering, the person’s pain was louder than everyone else’s put together.
Wesley felt it all, experienced it as if it were his own, and the loss—whatever the loss was—was devastating.
He had no idea he was sobbing until he became aware of Jarrad next to him, saying his name over and over, his tone desperate and hoarse. And then he realized the ground had stopped rolling, and the earth once again stood still.
Slowly, he opened his burning eyes, dragged a hand across them to wipe away the wetness, and saw that he lay flat on his back in the snow, staring up at the black expanse of sky, with Jarrad hovering over him.
“Wes! Thank the gods!”
As the sight of Jarrad above him grew clearer, he could see the tear streaks on Jarrad’s cheeks, glistening in a brief glimmer of moonlight, as the clouds parted for a moment, long enough to let through a pale beam of light. But then it slipped away, the clouds filled back in, and everything once more was swathed in darkness.
“Wesley…I thought… I don’t know what I thought. The ground shook, and then you cried out and fell and seemed to be in so much pain, but I couldn’t get to you. I was scared. So scared…”
Jarrad was practically babbling, which was something the cocky Jarrad he knew would never do. He’d obviously been badly shaken as well by whatever had just occurred.
“Wes…everything just feels cold and wrong…”
Wesley blinked and then struggled to sit up. “I know,” he whispered. He pushed himself to his feet, then pulled Jarrad up with him. “Something terrible just happened.”
“The earth…I’ve never felt anything like that. The way it moved.”
“No, it’s more than that,” Wesley said. “That was only part of it. I mean something truly horrible just happened, Jarrad. I felt it.”
“What…what do you mean?” Jarrad grabbed his arm.
“I have to get to Wen. I have to…”
He pulled away from Jarrad to leave, but Jarrad held him back. “No, Wesley, wait.”
“I have to. You don’t understand, I have to find him. He’s…” He shook his head, remembering Wen’s terror, then the horrible, aching grief. And… “Oh gods…someone else. Something…”
“Now you’re scaring me again. You’re not making any sense.”
“Jarrad, I have to—”
Jarrad held his arm more tightly and refused to let go. “No, Wes, listen to me. Whatever just happened, it’s more important than ever that we stay here at our post. We can’t abandon it, as much as I wish we could right now. We have to stay here. This might have… The ground shaking and the way we both felt… It might have been an attack by the sorcerer!”
“Magick…” Wesley murmured, shocked as he realized Jarrad might be right.
“Yes. That’s what it felt like to me. Dark, dark magick. Evil magick. Like someone’s ripped something out of place in the world.”
Wesley thought of the dark terrible hole he’d sensed.
“If that’s what it was…dark magick…then the gods only know what might follow,” Jarrad continued, his voice urgent and crackling with fear.
Wesley nodded, understanding at last. Jarrad was right. They couldn’t leave their post. If it was an attack by the sorcerer, then for all they knew, his soldiers might be planning a siege on the camp as they spoke.
But inside Wesley, the voices in pain cried out, still wreaking havoc, still desperate and empty, and gods it was so, so awful.