Dark Magick Rising – Chapter 20

Dark Magick Rising (Draegan Lords Book 5) by M.L. Rhodes

Copyright 2019 by M.L. Rhodes, All Rights Reserved

If you’re just joining in, click here to start at the beginning of the book, Chapter 1

Okay, so this is weird. This past Saturday I posted two new chapters — 18 and 19. According to my website stats, I had almost twice as many visitors to chapter 19 as I did to 18. Nothing like that’s ever happened before. So I’m wondering if maybe some readers landed on my main blog page and, because I usually only do post one chapter, they simply clicked through on the first blog post at the top of the list, which would have been 19…and they missed 18 completely?? Whatever the reason….for those of you who might have somehow missed it…again, I put up TWO new chapters last Saturday. If you didn’t read 18, you might want to swing back and see what you missed (and it will probably help chapter 19 make more sense for you.) 🙂

P.S. Not sure why it turned out this way, but this new chapter, Chapter 20, is a long one! Whew! Enjoy!

CHAPTER 20

He must have slept for a little while because Wesley opened his eyes and realized at some point Wen had drawn the heavy drapes over the window, yet Wesley had no memory of him doing it. The room was cozy with the flames from the fire casting a pleasant glow across the walls and bed.

He stretched comfortably, then turned his head toward the warm, solid weight next to him. Wen lay on his side facing him, head resting on one bent arm, the other arm draped across Wesley’s waist. His eyes were open, his gaze sleepy but content, and a melting half-smile curved his lips.

“What?” Wesley said, a smile pulling at his own mouth, wondering how long Wen had been lying there watching him.

“I’m still basking,” Wen said softly.

“Aren’t you bored yet with staring at me? Because every time you say that, you’re staring.”

Wen’s mouth twitched, and his half smile turned into a full-fledged grin. “Never. Watching you will never, ever get old.” He leaned in and kissed Wesley, long and lingeringly. 

“I love kissing you,” Wesley whispered when they parted.

A hint of mischief sparkled in Wen’s eyes. “Aren’t you bored with it yet?”

That made Wesley laugh. “Very funny. And, no. Never.”

Wen’s expression grew more serious. He lightly traced a finger over Wesley’s shoulder. “What happened here?”

Wesley had to look down to see what he was talking about. “Ah, that. It is looking fairly blue, isn’t it?”

“And purple, with hints of green.”

“Would you believe me if I told you I got tangled in the bed covers last night down at the guard camp and fell?”

“How’d you manage that?” And then Wen’s eyes widened, and Wesley felt a rush of understanding flood their emotional link. “You said you felt it, the nycto attack last night. That it woke you. That’s when you did this, isn’t it?”

Wesley nodded. “At first I didn’t know what was happening. I woke up anxious. I thought I’d had a nightmare that I didn’t remember, but the anxiety kept getting worse, even with me fully awake. And I was shivering. I remembered you saying I was shivering the night…that night I…” He winced.

“You were afraid you were turning again?”

“I thought I might be. But then my head started throbbing. It happened so suddenly and hurt so bad it was hard to even think or move. At that point I began to wonder if maybe I hadn’t woken up at all and I was still in the midst of a nightmare. Until…” His chest heaved with a stuttered breath as he remembered. “Until I heard you cry out. That’s when I realized the anxiety and pain weren’t mine. They were yours and I was—”

“Feeling it through our link. Oh gods, Wes, I’m so sorry. I had no idea any of that would ripple over to you from such a distance.” He shook his head, looking devastated, and radiating it as well.

Wesley rested a hand atop Wen’s arm over his waist and squeezed. “Don’t apologize. You had no control over it. Plus, I’d been searching for you through our connection all day, and then when Iann said you’d gone to Thrythgar to rescue Jax, I was worried. So I think maybe my empathic senses were extra alert last night already. And then, because the attack was so intense for you, I picked it up despite being far away.”

“I’m still sorry you had to experience any of it. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone,” Wen whispered, closing his eyes in what Wesley knew was remembered agony.

“It’s okay,” Wesley soothed. “I couldn’t tell at first why you were in such distress. But then, somehow, I could see you. In my mind. Like I was there with you. You were lying on the ground in the woods, it was snowing, and gray creatures were hanging over you, reaching for you.”

Wen opened his eyes and stared at him. “You saw all that? How? How is it possible that you could see as well as feel?”

“I don’t know. I was concentrating hard on our link, I followed it, like a fine thread stretched between us, to get to you, and then I saw you. I was confused because you weren’t at Thrythgar, or at least I didn’t think so.”

“We weren’t. Lord Rizik had a premonition on our way there that indicated Jax had been moved. He was staked out in the forest on the side of Mount Adolixus.”

“How did the nyctophans find you there? Was there a net over that area?”

“No. There were no nets. The nyctos were there already. They waited until we’d entered the clearing with Jax before they attacked. It’s like they…like they herded us there.”

Wesley shook his head, his chest tight with fear, probably, he realized, because talking about it was making Wen relive it all over again, and it was his fear Wesley was experiencing.

“When I first saw you, you couldn’t move,” Wesley said.

“I couldn’t. I was…” Wen scuffed a hand over his tortured face. “Gods, I can’t even describe what it was like, Wes. Those things were in my head, making it burn and throb, like a fiery knife was stabbing into my brain over and over. That’s how it felt. The pain…” He blanched as white as the bed sheet.

“I know,” Wesley said softly, continuing to stroke Wen’s arm, remembering all too well how it had felt, at least the overflow from it. For Wen it had clearly been so much worse.

“But then something happened,” Wen said. “The pain eased up. This was even before Lord Rizik’s magick awoke. Something…” He focused on Wesley’s face as he spoke. “…or someone muted it. It was still there, I knew the nycto attack was still happening, but I couldn’t feel it as much. Like there was a…” He paused, as if fumbling for a word.

Wesley supplied it. “Like a shield between you and them?”

Wen’s breathing slowed. “Yes. Exactly like that. It was you, wasn’t it? You made that happen. But how?”

“I have no idea,” Wesley said, honestly. “I almost didn’t believe it at first. I…I reached out to touch you. Out of instinct, I guess, to comfort you, which was ridiculous because even as I was doing it, I was aware I wasn’t actually with you, not physically. Yet I could feel you anyway. I could even feel the moisture from the snow on your skin. And I think that’s why I was shivering, because it was so cold out there.”

“Like the connection we shared on the training field that day,” Wen mused. “I touched you, held you, felt the warmth of the sun, and even—”

“Smelled the scent of the wildflowers in the meadow,” Wesley finished, remembering.

“Yes. All my senses were engaged.”

“As were mine. And last night it was like that in many ways. I realized your pain seemed less intense if I was touching you, so I concentrated on doing that. Again, I didn’t know how or why it helped, I just followed my instincts. And that’s when I noticed the water droplets.”

“Water droplets?”

Wesley nodded and rolled onto his side to face Wen. “This is probably going to sound completely crazy, but…I think I could somehow control the water.”

“What water?”

“The snow melting on your skin and clothes.”

Wen stared at him, and if Wesley hadn’t been able to experience Wen’s emotions he might have thought Wen was doubting him or, indeed, thinking he was crazy. But instead he could almost feel Wen trying to process what he was telling him, not with any doubts, but instead attempting to understand.

“Control it how?”

“I keep saying this, but I don’t know. I noticed that when I touched you, the water droplets on your skin seemed to…well…to slide toward my hand. When I lifted my hand, they skittered back to where they’d been, and when I touched you again, they returned. I thought I was imagining it at first, but when I held your face between my hands, suddenly all of the moisture on you started to glow.”

“Glow?”

“See, it sounds completely unbelievable. But that’s how it looked to me, like it was glowing with a sort of iridescent light. And then it all…I don’t know exactly…combined, I guess is the best way to explain it. Linked together. Or…or formed a solid shape—well, it was water, so not solid, but I don’t know what else to call it.”

“A shield.”

Again Wesley nodded. “That’s how it looked to me, but I don’t know if it was visible to you or anyone else.”

“I didn’t see anything,” Wen said. “Just felt the pain and terror let up suddenly. Not all the way gone, but better. So much better that I actually dared to hope maybe I wasn’t going to die.”

“I felt your pain ease,” Wesley said. 

Wen drew in and released a long, slow breath. “Wes, I’ve never even heard of that kind of magic before outside of maybe a draegan lord. Controlling the elements is extremely difficult to do. It takes immense power and concentration.  And for you to be able to do it when you weren’t even physically present, but through an empathic link? That’s just…” He voice trailed off.

“Don’t look at at me like that,” Wesley said, his heart racing.

“Like what?” Wen’s brow furrowed, as he smoothed Wesley’s hair back off his face.

“Like I’m…I don’t know…some kind of aberration.”

“That’s not how I feel at all. The complete opposite, actually. I think I’m mostly in awe.”

“Don’t be. I don’t even understand what I did, and certainly don’t know if I could ever do it again. Plus”—he winced—“I really struggled to keep it in place. I felt it draining me so fast.”

“Heavy magick use takes a lot of energy, so I’m not surprised, and, again, you weren’t even doing it in person, you were channeling it from a distance through an empathic link, which would have been even more difficult. It’s astonishing you were able to do it at all.”

“All I could think about was what was going to happen to you when I couldn’t hold it any longer. That you were going to die right there, with me watching, and I wouldn’t be able to stop it because I wasn’t strong enough to hold the damn shield.”

“But you did hold it. You held it until Lord Rizik’s magick kicked in and he fought back the nyctophans.”

“The timing was a coincidence,” Wesley said, a lump forming in his throat. “I was growing weaker. I wouldn’t have been able to keep it up more than a few seconds longer. If Lord Rizik hadn’t…” He squeezed his eyes closed, unable to finish the thought.

Now it was Wen who cradled his face oh-so-gently between his callused palms. “Wes, look at me. Please?” he said softly.

Wesley’s eyelid fluttered open, but his vision was blurred with moisture. He’d come too damned close to losing Wen again, and knowing it would have been partly his fault for not being strong enough to protect him longer… Now that the heat of the moment had passed and he’d had time to let it all sink in, it tore him up inside.

“Stop,” Wen said firmly. “I can feel everything you’re feeling, and you have to stop your thoughts from running away with you. I’ve seen you do incredible things, Wesley Brannock. I’ve watched you dig down into yourself and tap into a deep well of strength and courage when things around you have been at their absolute worst. I’ve seen you save the day, and save my life, when by all odds it never should have happened. I think you held on last night exactly as long as you needed to. As long as it took Lord Rizik to tap into his lord magick and fight off the nyctophans. You might have even had something to do with that, too.”

Wesley shook his head. “No. I couldn’t see or offer anything to Lord Rizik and Jarrad. Only you, because of our connection.”

“How do you know your shield didn’t help protect Lord Rizik just enough to give him a chance to do what he needed?”

“Because I know, Wen. I wanted to help them. I suspected they were there with you, and I wished I could do something for them, but I couldn’t see or feel anyone else. Our bond was the only reason I could connect with you.”

“But in the end we all got out of there. We’re safe and alive, so you shouldn’t be beating yourself up over something that never occurred.”

Wesley swallowed hard. “The thing is…there was a point where I thought about going to get Iann, to tell him you were under attack, so he could send help. But I was too scared to let go of the link with you. I was afraid I’d lose you, that the creatures would kill you before I could reconnect with you, if I could even find you again to reconnect. So I put your life ahead of Lord Rizik’s and Jarrad’s. I’m a member of the draeganjhere. It’s supposed to be our job to protect the draegan lord first and foremost. But I put my feelings for you first.” He rubbed his stinging eyes.

“Oh, love. That’s what’s weighing on you?” Wen pulled him into his arms, holding him close, stroking his hair.

Wesley let him, savoring the comfort Wen offered even as he felt wrong for accepting it. He hated the guilt that ate him, that had been eating at him since last night over his decision to hang onto the shield to protect Wen instead of going to Iann. He’d justified the decision to himself at the time, but it had been there, niggling away in his gut ever since.

“Listen to me,” Wen said, easing back enough to look at Wesley. “Sometimes we have to face tough decisions on the field of battle, and—” He pressed a finger against Wesley’s mouth when Wesley tried to argue. “And,” he repeated, giving Wesley’s a steady look, “this was a battle. Believe me. A battle you were part of, even if unintentionally. The thing is, there are going to be times where we have to make impossible decisions, and we have to do it fast. And even worse, sometimes there is no clear-cut right choice. You faced this same type of dilemma the night you chose to take me to the hot springs instead of going for Lilia.”

“That was different,” Wesley protested. “I knew there was no way I’d be able to get to Lilia and return to you with her in time before you died.”

“This was the same thing, Wes. Let’s say you had let go of our link and gone to get Iann. It would have taken several minutes at best, if he were there in the guard camp, but possibly a lot longer if he’d already left to fly up here to the castle. But even if you’d found him quickly, it would have taken time to explain to him what you felt and saw. And then you probably would have had to tell him why you knew those things, which would have taken even longer. Then, the next question he would have asked was where we were. You said yourself that you didn’t know. You only saw a forest, which describes pretty much the entire distance between here and Thrythgar.”

“I thought of all that,” Wesley admitted, “when I was trying to figure out what to do.”

“Neither of you would have known where to send help. And even if you had known where we were, it would have been hours before any draegan could have flown there, and it would have taken days on foot, especially during a blizzard. Far too late to help us.”

Wesley released a sigh, hearing the logic even if it was hard to fully accept it. “But there’s still a part of me that feels like I betrayed Lord Rizik and my duty.”

“Let me ask you a question.” Wen looked at him in all seriousness. “Do you think that if I’d been in your position and it had been you out there suffering, and I had to make a choice, I would have done anything different?”

Wesley’s took another hard swallow as he weighed Wen’s words. “You’re always so loyal, and you take your duty seriously.”

“If you’re implying that means I wouldn’t choose you, you’re wrong. My responsibility to the draegan lord, lords when they’re both here, is something that weighs heavily on me every waking moment. But, Wesley, you’re my mate. My heart. My bond with you is…it’s as if you’re part of me now, an integral part of me. In your position, I would have had the same thoughts run through my mind…and I would have made the same choice you did. And though I can’t speak for him, I suspect had Lord Rizik been faced with your dilemma and it was Lord Hareldson in danger, he would have done the same thing.”

“You really think so?”

“I do. You made the best call you could under the circumstances. You kept me alive and kept me from suffering until Lord Rizik got us away. You have no idea how grateful I am for that because, otherwise, I honestly don’t know if I would have made it until Lord Rizik’s magick began to flow. I felt my body shutting down. And just because you couldn’t see the others doesn’t mean your protective shield didn’t reach them. They might have gotten some residual protection from it without you even realizing it that also helped keep them alive long enough.”

“But Jarrad…” Wesley said. “Al and I saw Edric earlier and he said Jarrad was in bad shape when you guys got back here.”

 “Jarrad did take it the hardest,” Wen acknowledged. “But he also has less experience in a fight than Lord Rizik and I do. And, after the nyctos, he had to fly back carrying Jax. So he’s exhausted, for good reason. But I’m sure he’ll be okay. He’s tough and resilient.” Wen smiled then. “By this time tomorrow, he’ll probably be bragging about how he fought off the nyctos single-handedly.”

Wesley tried to force a smile, but couldn’t quite get one on his face. “I understand what you’re saying. I do. It still bothers me, though, that I…” He dragged in a deep breath. 

“That when you were faced with an impossible choice, you opted to keep me out of pain as long as you could? Wesley, your compassion is one of your greatest strengths. Don’t ever feel bad for letting it guide you. The world could stand to have more people like you.”

“I wasn’t so compassionate the night I was running through the woods ripping wild animals apart.”

“That was a different situation completely, and you know it. I still believe you couldn’t help that. I think it was a reaction to you healing me.

“It…it almost happened again while I was gone with Al,” he admitted.

Wen’s brows furrowed and Wesley felt his concern, flaring instantly like kindling catching a spark and going up in flames. “What happened? Are you okay?”

“Nothing happened. I mean, I didn’t do any damage or go all weird-eyed again or anything. But…there was this night, early on, when Allend and I had to take cover in a snowstorm. We found an old hut and sought shelter in it, but a sabeen was already living there.”

“Good gods, they’re fierce as hel, and even worse when cornered. What’d you guys do?”

“I killed it.”

Wen’s brows shot up. “How?”

“Put an arrow between its eyes.”

“Holy crap, Wes! Sabeen are notorious for being hard to kill, and you took it down with one shot?” Now Wen’s tone and emotions radiated pride.

“I hated having to do it; they’re such beautiful creatures. But it lunged for Al, and I didn’t have any choice. Shooting it wasn’t what presented the problem for me, though. It was when Al decided it was going to be dinner for the evening and he dropped down next to it and began cutting it open that created the issue. The blood…” Wesley shuddered.

“Ohhh. The smell?” Wen asked, his voice outwardly gentle, but with a hint of underlying tension and worry.

Wesley nodded. “The sight of it, too. But mostly the smell. All of a sudden I started imagining myself shoving Al out of the way and tearing into it. The sabeen, I mean.”

“You wanted to feed.”

“Yeah, I wanted to feed, in the worst way. It scared the hel out of me, and made me sick all at the same time. I came up with an excuse and ran out into the snowstorm to get away from it, away from the blood and from what I was feeling. By that time, I didn’t really have any more urge to…well…you know. But just the thought that it had hit me so hard and so unexpectedly…I didn’t trust myself after that.” He shook his head. “From then on, I let Allend do all the hunting and cooking, and I made myself scarce because I was too afraid of what I might do around any more fresh kills.”

“I’m so sorry. I can’t even imagine how unsettling that had to have been for you.” He stroked Wesley’s hair, his cheek, his gaze troubled. “I truly thought it was over before you guys left. That whatever had happened to you, you’d beaten it.”

“It happened so fast, when I least expected it. I think that’s what shook me—it caught me off guard and I panicked. That, and my worry for exposing Al to it, to me when I’m like that.”

“Did you ever feel the urge again after that?”

“No. But, again, I stayed away when Al was butchering whatever creatures he caught.” He gave Wen a pleading look. “What’s wrong with me, Rowen? Is it always going to be like this now, where I simultaneously crave blood even as I get sick at the thought of it?”

“I don’t know, love.” Wen’s troubled gaze pained him deep inside. If Wen was worried, which he clearly was, that only made Wesley more concerned. 

But, slowly, a warm, soothing sensation rippled over Wesley, dimming his fears and relaxing him.

Wen. He was using magick to comfort Wesley.

“Thank you,” Wesley breathed, closing his eyes and wallowing in it for a few seconds. Damn, he’d missed this. He’d missed everything about Wen, but this in particular was amazing right now.

“You’re welcome,” Wen whispered, moments before his lips, warm and gentle, pressed against Wesley’s forehead.

When Wesley opened his eyes, Wen said, “Now that we’re both at Kellesborne, and will hopefully have a little more free time on our hands, we’ll see if we can find any information in the library about the ondaen, find out if there are any recorded histories that mention the side effects you had after healing me.”

“If that’s even what caused it,” Wesley said. “We don’t know that for sure.”

“No, we don’t, but there’s always a price to pay for using magick. Small or everyday kind of things, the price is a manageable energy loss that’s quickly replenished. We don’t even notice it. But the greater the magick, the greater the cost. Elemental magick is very difficult, as you found out when you used it to create a shield out of water across a vast distance. It took an energetic toll—you could only hold it as long as your strength and stamina held out. But for something like healing someone on the threshold of death—that’s intense, complex magick. And the price for such heavy magick very well could require a toll above and beyond replenishing one’s normal energy.”

“We talked about this before I left. You said maybe I healed with blood, so I required blood to replenish it.”

“I think it’s possible, yes.”

“If that’s the case, then why do I still crave blood? Or, I assume I do, because of the sabeen. Am I going to be fighting this for the rest of my life?”

“Again, I don’t know, Wes. But we’re in the right place to find out. Kellesborne has the largest library in all of Velensperia, with access to texts that most people never dreamed existed. If there’s anything to be found about your ondaen healing abilities and any potential price you might have to pay for them, then Kellesborne is where we’ll discover it.”

* * *

Eventually, they both slept, and once again, Wesley had no idea for how long. He only knew that a loud commotion somewhere outside their room woke him. 

Wen lay spooned against his backside, his arm around Wesley’s waist, a heavy but comfortable weight. But as Wesley awoke, he felt Wen stir at the same time, rolling away from him and sitting up. 

Wesley turned toward him. “What’s going on?” he mumbled sleepily.

“Don’t know. I’ll find out.”

Wen rose from bed and crossed to the door, stark naked, but clearly not concerned about that fact. He did pause long enough to pull his vrieg from his belt on the floor, though.

Wesley sat up, and Wen’s stance, the fact he was holding his knife, the taut muscles in his shoulders, and the tension rippling along their emotional link, instantly put him on alert. He slid across Wen’s side of the bed and rose as well. His weapons were all near the door, as were Wen’s. He made a mental note to be sure in the future he had at least a knife somewhere nearby when he slept. Apparently, even here at Kellesborne, there was still enough uneasiness in the air that unexpected noises were cause for Wen to approach the door with a weapon.

Wesley found his own vrieg on his belt and slid it free of its sheath, then took up a position just behind Wen.

The racket in the hallway continued—shouting, followed by a loud bang that sounded as though a massive door had been thrown open.

Wen cracked open their door and peered out.

And then Wesley heard Iann’s voice. “Trouble in Lord Rizik’s chambers,” Iann said. “With Jax.”

“Damn it.” The muscles in Wen’s shoulders and back knotted even tighter. “I’ll be right there.”

He closed the door and went in search of clothes. He dragged on his pants and pulled his shirt over his head as he spoke to Wesley. “Fucking Jax. I knew he was going to stir up shit.”

“Can I help in any way?” Wesley asked.

Wen stepped into his boots, then reached down to jerk them the rest of the way on, before rising and pulling Wesley, who stood next to him, against him. He planted a warm, intoxicating kiss against Wesley’s lips. “I’ll deal with this. Even if it means I have to lock that bastard up. But thank you for asking.” He gave Wesley a faint smile. “Though, actually, yeah, there is something.”

“Name it.”

“Don’t put on any clothes. Seeing you like this is good motivation for me to speed things along and get back here.”

Wesley grinned. “I’ll see what I can do.” But then he grew serious. “Just be careful, okay? I realize you know him and I don’t, but from what I’ve heard about Jax, he’s got a hot temper.”

“Oh, he does. And he has no love for Lord Rizik. But things have changed since he was last in our company, and he’s going to have to learn to deal with it all or he’ll get his ass thrown out again. I’ll be back as fast as I can.” He gave Wesley another quick peck and then he was gone. 

Wesley noticed that though Wen didn’t take the time to put on his belt and the rest of his weapons, he left the room with his knife still in his hand.

As he returned his own vrieg to its sheath, he could still hear an occasional shout from down the corridor, which made him edgy. Especially since he could also feel Wen’s emotions, loud and clear, and Wen was none too happy at the moment. But, Wen wasn’t fearful. Mostly, he was experiencing a tangled mix of anger and disgust. In fact, those appeared to be the prevailing emotions from everyone present in Lord Rizik’s chambers at that moment, including the unfamiliar person he sensed, who he assumed was Jax. 

At least it didn’t seem like Wen was in immediate danger.

As Wesley wandered across the room, he realized he still had no idea what time it was. He felt far more rested than he had, though, so he suspected they’d slept for several hours. But, out of curiosity, he moved to the large window and pulled back the heavy drapes. 

The gray light of early evening stained the sky, but the snow had stopped, leaving the mountainside covered in a thick layer of icy beauty. It was obviously still frigid out, though, since frost ringed the glass window pane.

Their room, on the other hand, was surprisingly warm, so Wesley didn’t feel an immediate need to get back in bed under the covers, or to put on any clothes, though it made him smile to think about Wen asking him to not get dressed.

He turned from the window and let his gaze roam over the chamber, once again experiencing a “this can’t be real” moment as he had this morning when Wen had first told him it was theirs. He wondered why the draegans had been living in the woods in a camp all this time when they could have been here. 

But then he remembered overhearing Jarrad and Al talking once about it, though the memory was fuzzy around the edges. Something about Kellesborne being so high on the mountain because it was made for draegans to fly in and out of. And then he realized…of course. The draegans hadn’t been living here since Byram’s culling of them a hundred years ago because they hadn’t been able to fly, for fear of Byram’s damned invisible nets. And the mountain path, if you could even call it that, as narrow and steep as it was, would be extremely difficult for any but the most fit people to use on a regular basis. He remembered now Wen saying they were going to have to fly the very old and very young up here when they moved the camp because they wouldn’t be able to make it otherwise. So of course the draegans would have found it difficult to stay here, with no easy access in or out because of Byram and his fucking nets and fucking nyctophans. The only reason they’d been able to get here now was because Lord Rizik could see the nets.

Anger rose in Wesley, hot and fierce, at what the sorcerer had done to the draegans. What he’d done to Wesley’s own parents. What he’d done to everyone. The sooner the day came when they could strike him down, the sooner the world would be a better place.

When Wen didn’t return right away, Wesley decided to take advantage of the time to unload his travel pack, finding a spot in one of the large chests for the few items of clothing he had with him, and shelf space for the handful of other items he’d been carrying with him the past weeks.  

Something about seeing his things next to Wen’s drove home the fact that this was real—his and Wen’s relationship. They’d only been together a short time before Wesley had had to leave to hunt Caleb—in fact they’d spent more time apart than they had together since they’d finally admitted their feelings to one another. So even while he’d been traveling, thinking about his and Wen’s relationship had still felt new and almost like a dream. His thoughts and desires had been fully focused on getting back to Wen, touching him, hearing his voice, once again having their emotions merged. But the idea of actually living with one another on a daily basis hadn’t really played a role in his thoughts. Maybe because he’d never had a relationship like this before.

But when he saw Wen’s presence already settled in, as evidenced by his clothing in the chests, his weapons, several books and maps lying on the table, his cloak hanging on a hook near the door next to Wesley’s, and a handful of other personal items scattered about, it finally began to sink in that this was truly a place where they could not just share a few stolen moments, or a night here and there, but have a real life, all the time. Together. Even if Wesley hadn’t been thinking about it, Wen had because he’d chosen these rooms in part for Wesley’s comfort.

He stroked a hand over the worn, softly-woven cloth of one of Wen’s shirts and smiled before he closed the cabinet.

A gentle rap on the chamber door sounded, and Wesley turned in time to see Wen come through it, carrying a plate of food and a pitcher. “Sorry that took longer than I’d hoped. Had to do some damage control.”

Wesley met him and took the pitcher from him, which smelled of spiced wine. “It’s okay.”

“Since I was downstairs near the kitchens anyway, I figured I’d get us something to eat.” He smiled at Wesley as he spoke, then his brows rose. “Um, you have on pants.”

Wesley chuckled. “You were gone longer than I expected, and I figured if anyone came to the door, it might not be so great if I answered it in the altogether.”

“Damn, I wasn’t fast enough. I was hoping for the altogether,” Wen said, setting the plate on the bedside table, then wrapping an arm around Wesley’s wait and reeling him in close. “But we can remedy this problem in a hurry.” He pressed his mouth against Wesley’s, and while he kissed him, his free hand deftly untied the laces at Wesley’s waist and began peeling the soft leather down over his hips and thighs.

“Wait a second,” Wesley said, breathlessly, leaning away. “I can’t wear pants, but you’re fully dressed? I don’t think so.”

“Well, what are you going to do about it?” Wen challenged.

“You came back in a mood,” Wesley said, biting back another laugh as he stepped out of his pants that Wen now had around his ankles, and at the same time pulled Wen’s shirt up and over his head, exposing the golden expanse of his chest.

“I told you that seeing you in all your breathtaking glory before I left would motivate me to get back here. Did you think I was kidding? There’s just one catch.”

“What’s that?” He pushed Wen down until he sat on the side of the bed, then dropped to his knees on the rug to pull off Wen’s boots.

Wen combed his fingers through Wesley’s hair. “I have a meeting with Lord Rizik and the others in the library tower in less than an hour.”

“So we’ll have to make this quick. But then we might not have time to eat. Unless…” A thought occurred to Wesley and he grinned again.

“Okay, that expression on your face is making me hard as hel,” Wen said. 

He groaned when Wesley pushed him flat on the bed and shimmied his pants off him.

“So I see.” Wesley threw Wen’s pants to the side and edged Wen’s legs apart, then leaned in to run his tongue over the head of Wen’s cock in a bold stroke that made Wen groan again. He tasted warm and salty, with a lingering hint of cum from earlier in the day that sent Wesley’s arousal skyward. He tasted so good, in fact, Wesley went back for a second taste, and a third, flicking his tongue against Wen’s slit, then tracing the ridge along the underside before coming back to the tip and laving it one more time for good measure. 

“Gods, I missed you.” Wen’s voice grew hoarse as he said the words.

Wesley rose and slid up over him, slowly, letting his own hard length drag across Wen’s, making Wen shudder. He pressed a kiss against Wen’s lips. “And I you.” 

Rising to his knees on the bed, Wesley reached for the plate of food on the bedside table and picked up a chunk of choku melon. Where anyone had found it in the dead of winter he didn’t know, but he was beginning to learn not to question the gifts Kellesborne provided. Instead, he held the sweet, purple melon to Wen’s lips. Wen leaned up slightly to take it in his mouth from Wesley’s fingers. As he swallowed it, Wesley bent down to suck and lick the juice off his lips.  

“Good?” Wesley asked.

“Yes.” Again Wen’s voice was hoarse, and Wesley felt the rippling swells of his desire.

Wesley smiled and picked up another piece of melon, but this time, he moved lower with it and teased it over Wen’s shaft until it glistened with purple juice. Wen gasped and his legs began to tremble when Wesley bent down and licked it all up, slowly and thoroughly.

When he’d cleaned the last drop, he sat up and, with Wen watching, his gaze gone dark with passion, Wesley popped the piece of melon into his own mouth and ate it. “Mmmm.”

“Bloody hel, Wesley,” he croaked.

“Want more?”

In answer, Wen sat up with a half-growl and joined him in the teasing, giving Wesley his fair share of attention, until they were both trembling and hungry for more than just food. The plate of food forgotten, Wen lay back and pulled Wesley astride him, encouraging Wesley to ride him. Which he did, oh-so-willingly, sinking down onto Wen’s slick cock until he felt as if he might burst from the hard, hot length of it. With each downstroke, Wen met him, thrusting up into him until first he, then Wen, went over the edge.

As much as Wesley wanted to linger, and knew Wen did, too, they both realized they didn’t have time to waste. So they quickly stood under the rain shower in the bathing chamber to rinse off, then returned to the bed, where they sat undressed and cross-legged to finish eating. 

“Everything go okay earlier?” he asked, as he ripped off a hunk of the surprisingly soft bread.

Wen rolled his eyes and sighed. “Supposedly some civilian told Jax about what happened to Lord Hareldson, and Jax came tearing up here in a fit of fury, determined to blame Lord Rizik for it. But I didn’t have to do much because Lord Rizik’s magick really has kicked in fully now and he pinned Jax to the wall and had words with him.” He shook his head. “When I left, they were still that way. I had to go downstairs and soothe the people who saw Jax raging. That’s what took me so long, sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Wesley said, after taking a sip from the silver mug of spiced wine Wen offered him. “I’m just glad no blood was spilled. Although, for a while there, your mother was furious enough she probably could have spilled some.”

Wen cocked his head to the side. “How did you know my mum was there, or what she wanted to do?”

Wesley realized then that maybe he’d overstepped his bounds by intentionally reading the room’s emotions. He winced. “I’m sorry. I…I shouldn’t have tried to read anyone there. It wasn’t any of my business. I’ll make sure I don’t do that again.”

“No, it’s okay,” Wen said, squeezing his hand. “I’m not asking because you were intruding. I’m asking because I know you can pick up on people’s emotions when you’re with them. And I know that night outside the camp, when we were on duty, you were able to get a read on the overall emotions of the camp. But this was like neither of those situations. As far as I know, you weren’t aware my mum was even there with us, yet you were able to know it was her, and know what she was feeling?” He had the same look of surprised wonder on his face as the one he’d worn this morning when Wesley told him about controlling the water. “How is that possible?”

“Before Al and I left, you made me realize I might be able to contribute more to the camp if I better learned how to use my empathic skills,” Wesley said self consciously. “So, while Al and I were gone, I practiced.”

“Practiced how?”

“I…I’ve realized each person has a unique sort of… I don’t know how to describe it exactly. A flavor? An aura? A…a buzz? None of those word are exactly right, but everybody has a distinct feel to their emotions, something that makes their emotions unique to them. When I’m around a lot of people, I’m able to pick up on one or two prevailing emotions for the group overall—like a town living in fear.”

“Or like the camp that night.”

“Yeah, like that. So each time Al and I would get to a new town or settlement, I’d reach out beforehand to try to get a read on the place as a whole, see if people were afraid, or if I could pick up on anything that might indicate the sorcerer had a presence there before Al and I walked into it blind. But, I also wanted to see if I could read individual emotions within a group. Not just while I was in the room with someone, but when I wasn’t with them. Towns were a good place to try it and practice. I’d choose a person or two that we interacted with, memorize their unique emotional flavor or buzz or whatever, then test myself to see if I could still read them once they were out of sight.”

“And you could?”

“To some extent, yeah. But it only works if I know them or have met them at least briefly—long enough to get a feel for their…”

“Flavor.”

“Yeah. So, earlier, I read Lord Rizik, Iann, and your mum in the room with you. And Lilia was there, too. I know all of them well enough they’re fairly easy to identify. Jax I don’t know, but I had to assume the unknown fury was coming from him, based on what you told me before you left.”

“That’s incredible, Wes. Your magick is obviously growing stronger.”

Wesley shrugged. “Is it? Or am I just figuring out to how to use it?”

“Probably some of both.”

“Maybe.”

“So, as long as you’ve met them, you can pick up individuals even from a distance?”

“Not so much a big distance; it only really works over a short range—next room, down the hall, maybe from outside a building if it’s people I know well. There’s only been one exception to that. Besides you, I mean.”

“What’s the exception?”

“The night Lord Hareldson was taken, Lord Rizik’s grief was so intense, so overwhelming and powerful, it was like a storm. I couldn’t have gotten away from it if I wanted.”

“I remember,” Wen said softly.

“The thing is, I didn’t know it was Lord Rizik at the time, I only knew someone was suffering horrifically until you told me later what had happened and I realized it had to be have been Lord Rizik. But now that I’ve been practicing, and I recognize how his emotions feel, I would know it was him. But other than that, you’re the only one I can feel from far away because of our bond, and last night was the farthest yet.”

“I was leagues away.”

“I know, and the connection was impossibly fragile. It took all my concentration to keep us linked.”

“Yet you did it.”

“And I also felt you as you traveled toward Kellesborne, all the way up until you arrived here a little while before Al and I did this morning. Once Al and I were right outside the castle walls, I began to sense other people I knew—I mean their emotions didn’t just appear for me, I had to search for them specifically, but because I knew what I was looking for—well, feeling for—I was able to read them. That’s how I knew you were with Lord Rizik and your mum and the others this morning.”

“You continue to surprise the hel out of me,” Wen said softly, his eyes glistening with pride. And love. Both made Wesley’s belly knot. “And to respond to what you said earlier, yes, I think my mum would gladly have slit Jax’s throat. She’s been angry at him for a long time over how he treated Lord Rizik from the beginning. My mum is usually pretty even tempered, but she can also clearly hold a grudge.”

He glanced at the window, where darkness had fallen. “Damn. Speaking of Mum, I hate having to run out on you again, but I’d better go.”

“It’s okay. It’s the price I’ll willingly pay to be in love with the leader of the draeganjhere.”

Wen rose and once again found his clothes. Wesley sat in the bed and watched him, enjoying the sight. 

“Are you saying you love me because of my position?” Wen asked, as he dressed

“Yes. That’s exactly it. If it weren’t for your position, I wouldn’t be interested at all. Oh, wait, that’s right, I actually fell for you back when you were a lowly second lieutenant. Shame on me.”

“Well, at least you’ve had consistently good taste,” Wen said, glancing up with teasing raised eyebrows as he buckled his belt.

“Plus, you actually taste good, too. So that’s a bonus.”

Wen grinned. “So do you. So good I’m probably going to be late because I was enjoying it far too much.” He sank onto the bed on one knee and leaned in to steal a kiss. “And I have no regrets about that at all.”

Wesley slid a hand around the back of his neck and kissed him again.

Wen moaned as he pulled away. “Gods, having you home is going to make it damned hard to go to work. All I want to do is stay locked in this room with you until we’re fully sated, which could take a while.”

“A long while,” Wesley agreed, his body tingling with need, even as his heart slowly thudded with warm pleasure at Wen’s casual use of the word home. Yes, this was home. Here, with Wen.

He stroked a palm along Wen’s stubbled cheek and smiled. “Go do your job, lieutenant. I’ll be here to satiate you when you’re finished.”

Wen groaned. “And see, with every word and look you make it harder for me to leave. But, damn it, I have to.” He stood. “I don’t know how long I’ll be. Lord Rizik said he has something urgent to discuss, so it could be a while. What are you going to do while I’m gone.”

“I’m going to try to find my mum. I haven’t seen her since I’ve been back. Any idea where I might look for her?”

“She’s probably either in the greenhouses, which are on the main floor, past the kitchens as far as you can go, or eating, since many residents take dinner around this time. Or she could be in her rooms—they’re at the south end of the second floor. She’ll be happy to see you. I’ve checked up on her a few times to be sure she’s doing okay since we came to Kellesborne.”

“You have?” Wesley’s chest squeezed with love for Wen that he’d thought of looking in on Wesley’s mum.

“Of course. All right, I’m off. Hopefully I won’t have to be gone too long. I’ll see you back here later?”

“I’ll be here.”

Wen gave him one more kiss, and then he was gone.

Click here to read Chapter 21!

Author: mlrhodes

Author M.L. Rhodes writes bestselling m/m romance and fantasy novels. She's also a geek, an introvert, a night owl, a potter, and a damn fine margarita maker.

4 thoughts

  1. Nice update ML….it’s awesome now they have an empath…can’t wait to see what else Wes can do 🙂

  2. I’m here! Sorry, another work day interfering with my enjoyment. Maybe this one was longer because it was a bit of a transitional one? Can’t wait for Wes to start researching the Ondaen. Makes me wonder what they have in common with draegans, beyond what we’ve already learned.

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