Dark Magick Rising (Draegan Lords Book 5) by M.L. Rhodes
Copyright 2019 by M.L. Rhodes, All Rights Reserved
Wen made his way out of the draegan lords’ tent, doing his best to look confident and in control.
But deep down inside him, where no one else could see, he was far from it.
Lord Hareldson was gone. Stolen away through a rent in the very fabric of the world by some demon spawn called Moh’dredion. Or, as Thomas had told them earlier, Death, since Moh’dredion was an ancient word for death.
Wen didn’t want to accept it, but there was every possibility Lord Hareldson was, indeed, dead. Lord Rizik didn’t believe it, kept insisting his mate was alive somewhere. But how could anyone survive in the presence of that thing? Didn’t the creature known as Death bring death?
But almost worse than being in the hel-creature’s presence, or than having to watch Lord Hareldson’s stoic acceptance that he was about to be taken by it, was Lord Rizik’s grief once he was gone. They’d all felt the horror and loss. But Lord Rizik… Wen had never seen anyone in so much emotional agony. To say Lord Rizik was devastated would be far too simple.
True to his form as both a soldier and a leader, though, Lord Rizik had pulled himself together after learning the responsibility of the draegan people fell on his shoulders. He was now the draegan lord. He didn’t want the job, had made it clear he didn’t feel adequate for it, but he’d accepted it because it had to be done.
Wen understood that feeling.
With his own new responsibilities a heavy weight on his own shoulders, he knew he had much to do tonight. Plans to make, dozens of guards to organize, the security to plan for the evacuation of the camp. It all felt like far more than he could possibly deal with, but it had to be done. Like Lord Rizik, he had a job to do, and he’d see it through, no matter what.
Right now, though, in spite of all the responsibilities and all the people depending on him, there was only one thing he wanted and needed with a desperation that was almost painful. He had to get to Wesley. Had to see, with his own eyes, that Wes was okay. Needed to feel their connection. Because if he didn’t, he wasn’t sure he’d be able to carry on.
He set off at a run through the camp, ignoring the people milling around outside their tents, scared and unsure, asking questions about why the earth had shaken, about what was happening. He felt bad, knew they deserved reassurance. But right now he had none. Right now he needed to seek out his own reassurance.
He found Wesley and Jarrad where he’d left them, outside the boundary on the hill. He didn’t surprise them, though. Wesley had known he was coming. Wen had felt his and Wesley’s link growing more solid with every step he took closer to him, and knew Wesley felt him as well.
When he entered the small clearing, he and Wesley collided, arms around one another, holding tight.
Unbidden tears welled in Wen’s eyes, but he didn’t care, his relief at being with Wesley again too profound to make him give a damn about anything except feeling Wesley’s weight in his arms, the sound of his ragged breathing, and the warm pulsing of his emotions. Wen couldn’t even speak for long moments. Could only hold Wes and be grateful for his presence.
Somehow, in the short time they’d known one another, Wesley had become more than just his mate…he was also the one thing in this world that grounded Wen. His family members had always been that anchor for him in the past, and to some extent they still were. But Wes was more than that. He’d gotten inside Wen’s soul, had become a part of him in a way his mother and brothers couldn’t, and as long as he had Wesley close by, he knew he could face whatever else was to come.
When he leaned away enough he could look into Wesley’s face, he realized Jarrad stood nearby, looking shaken and upset. Without hesitation, Wen held out an arm to Jarrad, and when Jarrad looked relieved and moved toward him, Wen dragged him into the embrace as well, and saw Wesley curve an arm around Jarrad, too, completing their circle.
They stood like that for long moments, the three of them connected. All of them family now.
Eventually, Wesley was the one who asked. “What happened at the command tent?”
Wen didn’t have to wonder why or how Wesley knew something had happened there.
“Lord Hareldson…” Wen swallowed hard and fought against the hard, tight knot in his throat that made it difficult to speak. “He’s gone,” he managed to get out in a hoarse voice.
“Oh gods,” Wesley whispered, taking a step backward with one hand pressed against his chest, as if the words had given him pain.
“Dead?” Jarrad asked, his eyes wide with shock and then horror.
“We don’t know if he is or not,” Wen said. “It was…” He had to take another swallow before he could continue. “An entity from another realm—Moh’dredion, or, in the common tongue its name is literally translated as Death—opened a hole in the very air, right inside the tent. Lord Hareldson fought it off, created a shield that held it back for a while, but it wanted him. Said it came specifically for him. It attacked him, overwhelmed him bit by bit, and then it took him through the gaping black maw, back to wherever it came from. The rest of us…” Wen felt another surge or raw emotion churn up inside him, as he remembered their helplessness to stop it from happening. “We couldn’t do anything. Couldn’t help. And in the end Lord Hareldson resigned himself to it, knew he was going to be taken, and he put up shields around the rest of us so it couldn’t get to us, too.”
Which meant they also hadn’t been able to get to Lord Hareldson to help him…
Wesley’s hand reached out, seeking his, squeezing it, and instantly Wen felt a bit of the cold grief abate. He looked at Wesley, grateful.
Jarrad staggered back a few steps, then sank to one knee in the snow, as if he could no longer hold himself up. “What happens now?” he whispered, his voice shaking with defeat and emotion. “With Lord Hareldson gone…what do we do?”
Wen found himself echoing Iann’s words of earlier, when Wen had asked the very same thing after Moh’dredion had taken Hareldson. “We go on. We keep fighting. And we give our allegiance to our new lord.”
“Who…who’s the new lord?” Wesley asked. Wen felt his confusion.
“Lord Rizik. As Lord Hareldson’s mate, the title of Draegan Lord falls to him. He’s already accepted it and taken charge.”
Wen wouldn’t tell them that Lord Rizik hadn’t wanted to, and that Iann and Wen’s mother had had to convince him. Those first few minutes after Lord Hareldson had disappeared had been horrible, and they’d all been traumatized, but especially Lord Rizik. His hesitation to take the role of leader had been understandable, given his emotional upheaval. But Wen would never tell anyone else about it because he refused to let word get around in any way that Lord Rizik might not be worthy enough or strong enough or true enough for the job. He was all those things and more. In point of fact, Wen had never held more respect for anyone than he did Lord Rizik, knowing where he’d come from, and what he’d been through to become the man he was now. But there might still be a handful of rabble rousers in camp who recalled the distrust that had been stirred up about him early on, or those who might have qualms about it because Lord Rizik was half human. Wen would protect his lord to the death, and so he would take to his grave the secret of Lord Rizik’s hesitation, lest it leak out and paint him in a bad light to anyone. And he knew, without asking, that everyone else in the command tent tonight would do the same.
“Lord Rizik is also determined to get Lord Hareldson back. The realm the demon creature came from is called the Shadow Lands in the old histories. That’s one of the things Thomas discovered in the book. Passage to them has been closed off for thousands of years, but the sorcerer found a way to bargain with the demon. He’s been feeding this creature, making it stronger, strong enough so it can once again pass between realms. And, now, it’s found a way back into our world.”
“Dark magick,” Jarrad mumbled, looking at Wesley. “Told you.”
Wesley nodded. “So the sorcerer and this demon being are working together?”
“It seems that way. Bryam’s been using it. Best we can understand, it’s how he’s managed to live as long as he has. The demon is giving him long life. And, in return, Byram’s been giving Moh’dredion draegan children.”
Jarrad’s gasp was audible. “That’s what the sorcerer has been doing with the younglings?”
“Yeah. He’s been…” Wen grimaced. “He’s been feeding the draegan children to Moh’dredion because their magick gives Moh’dredion more power.”
“Oh my gods,” Wesley whispered, looking like he might be sick. Wen knew exactly how he felt. “That’s…that’s beyond horrible.”
“I know. It answers questions we’ve had, and now we know more about what and why Byram is doing certain things. But it’s opened up a whole new nightmare because now this demon is a threat as well, and it might very well be more dangerous than the sorcerer.”
“Then we’re going to be in far worse trouble than we already are,” Jarrad said.
Wen nodded. “There’s something else. We’re evacuating camp. Before Moh’dredion appeared, Lord Rizik had a premonition that indicated Byram had a spy who either already knows where we are or can find out.”
Jarrad rose to stand again, looking shaken for a whole new reason. “Where are we evacuating to? Where in all of hels are we supposed to go?”
“We’re moving everyone to Kellesborne.”
Jarrad looked startled. “How are we supposed to do that?”
“Kellesborne…” Wesley murmured, and Wen could see on his face he’d heard of it. “The ancient draegan stronghold?”
“I thought it was a legend.”
“It’s real. And we’re going there.”
“With everyone in camp?” Jarrad asked. “Again I say, how?”
“Small groups. Some by foot. We’ll fly the elderly and kids. We start tomorrow at dark. Mum’s in charge of organizing the evacuation.”
“What about this spy?” Wesley asked. “Do we… Is there any idea who it might be?”
Wen felt fear radiating through their link. He looked at Wesley, trying to figure out why, seeing the troubled frown on his face. “Not yet. Lord Rizik put Iann in charge of intelligence and finding out who it is.”
“If Lord Rizik’s now the lord, Iann’s spy hunting, and Mum’s organizing the move to Kellesborne, who’s in charge of the draeganjhere?” Jarrad asked.
Wen took a deep breath and let it out slowly, feeling the weight of responsibility once again settle like lead on his shoulders. “I am.”
Jarrad’s eyes practically popped out of his head. “You are? Like temporarily?”
“No. Like permanently. Lord Rizik promoted me.”
“Holy fucking hel.” Jarrad’s tone indicated he was trying to wrap his mind around it and wasn’t sure if he liked the idea.
Wesley squeezed his hand and Wen felt pride rippling through their connection. Yet he still sensed an underlying flicker of the same fear as earlier, and wondered what was going through Wesley’s head. He looked at him, worried, but Wes only gave him a wan half smile that didn’t reach his eyes.
“So what happens now?” Wesley asked. “I mean, like tonight?”
Wen sighed. “I have to come up with a plan for security. Moving all these people isn’t going to be easy, and we have to make sure every group is protected as they travel. I have to have a workable plan in place by morning.”
“If I can help in any way, all you have to do is ask.”
“I know. And you have no idea how much I appreciate that.” This time it was Wen who squeezed Wesley’s hand.
“I’ll help, too,” Jarrad said, grudgingly.
Wen knew he could count on Jarrad. Jarrad had had always been competitive, and had never been a fan of being under Wen in the hierarchy of the draeganjhere. But he always came through when Wen needed him, and he knew, in this, Jarrad would be no different.
When they heard someone crunching across the snow, they all turned at the same time. Unlike earlier, when Jarrad had tried to sneak up, whoever this was, he or she was moving quickly, openly, and coming from the direction of the camp.
A few seconds later, Allend came into view, running, as usual. He stopped in front of them, more than a little out of breath, probably because he tended to run everywhere. He bent over to catch his breath, but gasped out, “Iann needs you.”
“Okay, I’m on my way,” Wen said.
“No, not you,” Al said, standing upright again, still breathless. “Wesley. Iann needs you, Wesley.”
If it hadn’t been so dark, Wen would have sworn Wesley blanched as white as the snow. He definitely felt another ripple of fear roll off of him, too. Why would Wesley be reacting this way?
He rested a hand on Wesley’s shoulder, squeezed gently, and sent a dose of soothing magick his way. He saw and felt Wesley relax, at least a little.
Wesley drew in a slow breath, released it, and said, “Why me?”
“Dunno,” Allend responded. “Iann just told me to come find you and bring you to his tent.”
“Al, you stay here then, with Jarrad, until Wesley gets back,” Wen said.
“No. Can’t. Iann said he wanted to talk to Wesley and me.”
It was Wen’s turn for surprise. He looked as Wesley, who looked back and shrugged. For some reason, hearing Iann wanted Allend also seemed to have allayed some of Wesley’s worry. Wen had no idea why, but was glad for it.
“All right.” Wen turned to Jarrad. “You okay to stand watch for a few minutes alone? I’ve got to get several things done tonight, so I can’t stay here. But I’ll send someone to you as fast as I can.”
Jarrad nodded and straightened his shoulders. “Of course. I’ve got this.”
“You know the signal, in case you need help before your backup arrives.”
“It’s all good. Go do your leader thing, oh great one.” Jarrad gave him a weak smile as he said it, and Wen knew that meant Jarrad had accepted Wen’s new role.
“Git.” He gently smacked the back of Jarrad’s head.
“Wesley, come on,” Allend urged. “We need to go.”
“I’m coming,” Wesley said. But before he even got the words fully out, Allend had already turned and headed back toward camp in a quick lope.
Jarrad cleared his throat. “I’m, um, gonna go over here so I have a better view of the valley and leave you two to do your thing in private.”
When he’d given them some space, Wen turned to fully face Wesley.
“I’d better go,” Wesley said. “Al’s probably halfway there already.”
“No, he’ll wait for you at the barrier so you can get back through it.” He cupped Wesley’s cheeks between his hands and pulled him into a kiss, savoring for just a few extra moments his taste, his warmth, and especially the way Wesley gave a soft moan into his mouth. Gods, he loved this man.
When they leaned away from one another, Wen knew it was as hard for Wesley as it was for him, but they both had to do their jobs. “I need to get back to the command tent.” Which was in the opposite direction from where Wesley needed to go.
“Will I see you later?” Wesley asked.
“Yes. Absolutely.” Wen would make time, no matter how busy he was. “Let’s meet at our tent…let’s say a couple of hours before daybreak. I should be able to get a handle by then on how in bloody hel we’re going to protect all these people as we move them to the mountains. Or at least pretend I know how.”
A sweet, unexpected smile curved Wesley’s lips.
“What? Do you doubt I know how to pretend?”
“No. I don’t think you’ll have to pretend—you’ll have it all sorted. I’m smiling because…” He shrugged and Wen sensed he was blushing.
“It’s stupid, especially right now after everything.”
“I just like the sound of that—our tent.”
In spite of the horrors of the night, the aching hole still inside Wen from losing Lord Hareldson, from Lord Rizik’s pain, and the weight of all his new responsibilities, this, right here…this was the reason he’d needed to come find Wesley earlier. He’d needed to remember the good still in life. Feel his and Wesley’s connection.
“There’s nothing stupid about finding comfort in good, simple things. I like it, too.” He smiled and brushed a wayward strand of hair back behind Wesley’s ear. “It is our tent. For a while longer, anyway. And when we get to Kellesborne, we’ll find a new place there to call ours. Okay?”
Wesley nodded, and Wen felt his gratitude through their link.
“I really had better go now,” Wesley said.
“Me, too. But I’ll see you before daybreak, love. It’s something to look forward to.”
Wesley gave him another one of those sweet half smiles, before he turned and jogged off to meet Al.