Dark Magick Rising (Draegan Lords Book 5) by M.L. Rhodes
Copyright 2019 by M.L. Rhodes, All Rights Reserved
What in hel was going on?
And then an unsettling thought hit Wesley.
Had the person been killed? Was that why their emotions had completely vanished?
Whoever it was, they’d experienced such crippling fear before they disappeared, it would make sense. If someone had been threatening them and then acted on the threats…
The possibility caused a sick knot in Wesley’s stomach. Had he just been witness, in a far-reaching, empathic way, to a murder?
But no. No, it couldn’t be. Again he reminded himself he’d been absolutely certain no one else had been anywhere near the person at the time they’d disappeared from his senses.
So what, then?
Maybe…maybe they’d gone to sleep.
No, that couldn’t be right either because Wesley could usually still read people’s emotions while they slept. They were quieter, yes, sometimes very much quieter. But he could no longer feel this individual at all. Plus, the person’s emotional aura had disappeared instantly. When people fell asleep, the quietening of their emotions happened slowly.
He let his senses roam, searching, now that he had a better idea of the person’s emotional aura and he knew what to look for. But…nothing.
His heart pounding, he kept trying, to no avail. He also couldn’t tell where in the castle the person had been when they’d disappeared. Which meant if they were still in danger or…gods…if they were dead, he had no way to find them.
And then he thought of Jarrad.
Jarrad would probably know, at the very least, where his lover lived in the castle. Wesley could go tell Jarrad and…
And what? What in hel could he possibly tell Jarrad? Oh, by the way, I forgot to mention I’m an ondaen and an empath and I’ve been spying on you and your intimate friend and I know you weren’t with them tonight, but they’re gone now and they might be dead, so you might want to go look?
What in ever-loving fuck?
He couldn’t do it. Crap, not without opening the door to a thousand questions.
But if someone’s life were in danger, how could he not do it?
Jarrad was his best friend, and if he could trust anyone other than Wen wouldn’t it be Jarrad? Wouldn’t it be worth the risk of telling Jarrad the truth if it meant saving someone’s life?
But how did he even know for sure this person’s life was in danger? How did he know anything had happened to them at all? Maybe something else was responsible for blipping him or her out of Wesley’s empathic way. Maybe whoever it was—say a draegan—had a way to block it if they thought someone could read them? Wen had told him draegans could have different magick gifts, and maybe that’s what this was.
But if that were true, wouldn’t Wen have mentioned the possibility that a draegan might be able to do such a thing?
No. Something had to have happened, and the only possibility that kept coming to Wesley’s mind was that the stranger had suddenly died. Plus, Wesley couldn’t shake the painful sadness this person carried, or the brutal fear of something…or someone.
Wesley couldn’t ignore it. Not and live with himself.
Decision made, he quickly rose out of the water and, before his body had even fully finished shifting back into his human form, he was dragging a bath sheet across himself in quick swipes to dry off. Then he pulled on his clothes and boots and made his way to the door.
He had to shove the table out of the way first, which he did with a grunt. Then he was out in the hallway and on his way down the steps toward the Daneson family rooms.
He reached out to sense Jarrad and found him in an agitated state, along with Allend, which meant they were probably still fighting.
Wesley wasn’t sure what in hel he was going to say, or how he was going to explain any of this, but his worry for the stranger kept him moving forward. As he jogged down the corridor, he reached out one last time to try to find the troubled soul again.
And nearly tripped over his own feet when, like a light in the darkness, he found the person.
Holy crap! Was it…? Yes, there it was, the strangely familiar aura. Jarrad’s lover was back in Wesley’s senses.
How was that possible?
The person was definitely here in the castle, and they were most definitely alive. The same sadness clung to them, but the fear, which had been intense at the moment they disappeared, had now returned to about the same level it had been when Wesley first noticed them. The dull ache of guilt was still there as well. But now, Wesley also picked up a shaky feeling of…relief?
Damn it all! Who was this individual?
As he stood there, trying to figure it out, the person must have been moving farther away from Wesley because his connection grew more tenuous by the moment. And very soon, he’d lost them altogether, though it wasn’t like the first time where they had just literally dropped out of his senses instantaneously. This was a gradual fade away.
A heavy door creaking open startled him out of his search, and he realized he’d stopped dead in the middle of the corridor, not too far away from the Danesons’ quarters.
Much to his shock, Jarrad himself appeared, coming through the doorway. He noticed Wesley as he pulled the door shut behind him, and his brows rose in surprise.
“What are you doing down here?” Jarrad asked.
Wesley took a few steps toward him and tried to make it look like he’d been moving the whole time. But he was pretty sure he only looked awkward. “Couldn’t sleep. Thought I’d take a walk,” he managed to get out, and even sounded fairly smooth about it.
He stopped in front of Jarrad, dying to ask him questions, but he didn’t. Couldn’t. Not at this point, knowing now the mystery person was alive. The risk of exposing his own secret weighed heavily on him, especially if the individual was no longer in imminent danger. “What are you up to?”
“Oh, um…the same I guess. Can’t sleep right now.”
Lingering anger still radiated from him, and Wesley could tell Jarrad was upset but trying to deal with it.
“You okay? Did you and Al have an argument?”
Jarrad gave him a quick, sharp look. “How would you know that?”
Shit. “Well, because you have the same look on your face you get when you two fight.”
Jarrad deflated at that. His shoulders slumped, and he sighed. “Yeah. I know it’s stupid, and he doesn’t mean half of the shit he says. I shouldn’t let it rile me.”
“But it does?” Wesley offered.
“Yeah. Brothers, you know?”
“No, not really.”
Jarrad flushed and said apologetically, “I’m sorry, Wes. I’m not thinking clearly tonight.”
Wesley smiled then. “It’s okay. I’ve been around you and your brothers enough to know having siblings isn’t always sunshine and happiness.”
Jarrad snorted. “Yeah, hardly. Al’s just so damned stubborn sometimes.”
“And you’re not…not ever. And neither is Wen,” Wesley teased.
Jarrad grudgingly laughed at that. “Yeah, okay, point taken.”
“I won’t keep you if you’ve got somewhere else to be,” Wesley said, wondering if maybe he’d interrupted Jarrad from a rendezvous with his mystery lover. And, for a fleeting moment, he wondered if that’s where Jarrad were going, would he be bold enough to secretly follow so he could find out who it was?
Before he had to test his moral fortitude, though, Jarrad shook his head. “Nah, I just needed to clear my head for a few minutes. I’m giving Al time to go to bed before I go back in there. Was thinking I might try to find something to eat. Wanna come?”
Wesley was dead tired, but maybe he could get Jarrad to talk about his lover in a roundabout way. The messy, tangled knot of emotion the poor person radiated had gotten under Wesley’s skin, making him want to help. Though, Jarrad would be in a better position to help if he were having a relationship with the person.
Jarrad, however, might not know about his lover’s deeply-seated sadness and fear. Sometimes Wesley forgot that not everyone could read other people’s emotions like he could.
They walked the silent corridors, turning this way and that, until they reached the main staircase and climbed down to the ground level.
The large kitchens at Kellesborne were quiet this time of night, as late as it was, but they found a pot suspended over one of the fires that seemed to have a never-ending supply of herb tea brewing. Wesley didn’t know if someone kept it that way, or if it was more castle magick, and he was always a little embarrassed to ask, for fear of looking silly.
He poured out two mugs, then handed one to Jarrad. They found a platter of bread and cheese that had been left out—probably exactly for late night excursions like this or perhaps for guards coming in late from duty.
After breaking off a hunk of bread to share, they went to one of the long tables, empty tonight but for them, and sat in silence for a while, drinking the hot tea and eating. Fires always burned in the great hall, and tonight was no exception. But probably because of the vast size of the hall, it was never quite as warm down here as in the living quarters. Tonight, Wesley shivered and wished he had on something warmer than just a lightweight shirt. Jarrad still wore the same clothing he’d had on earlier in the day, which included a lined leather jerkin over his shirt.
“Can I ask you a question?” Jarrad asked.
“When did you know you were in love with Wen?”
Wesley choked on the mouthful of tea he’d been swallowing.
“Sorry,” Jarrad said, wincing. “I guess that kind of came out of nowhere, didn’t it?”
“A bit,” Wesley said clearing his throat and swiping the back of his shirtsleeve across his mouth.
“It’s not really any of my business. You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”
Wesley studied him, trying to get a read on Jarrad’s suddenly chaotic emotions, wondering why he was asking. “It’s okay,” he finally said. “You just caught me off guard. I was expecting you to ask me about training or scheduling or something.”
When Jarrad didn’t respond, Wesley drew in a breath and released it slowly. He picked up his mug again and held it, letting the heat of the tea through the silver mug warm his hands.
“The first time I saw Wen, that day when Byram’s soldiers were attacking our settlement and you all arrived and started fighting, he…” Wesley smiled at the memory. “Let’s just say he captured my eye. He seemed so fierce and brave, but at the same time, he was also kind, and that made an intoxicating combination. I think each time I saw him after that, talked to him, I fell a little harder. But the first time I was able to put a name on what I was feeling was one night after I started training with him one-on-one. He’d pretty much been an ass to me all week—nitpicky, grouchy, just really not nice to be around. I’d gone to the upper hot springs pool to swim and find some peace—to get away from him—and he showed up.”
Jarrad had an elbow on the table with his chin propped in his hand. His expression showed he was listening and interested, but his emotions seemed to indicate he was struggling over something. Wesley wondered again why Jarrad was interested in this of all things. Maybe he was curious because he was having feelings for the sad mystery person and wondering if those feelings were something more?
“Wen didn’t realize I was there,” Wesley continued. “And I didn’t want him to see me because…” He hesitated for a moment, realizing he couldn’t say the real reason. “…well, because he’d been so wretched to me. So I tried to stay in the shadows, out by the big rock in the center of the pool. But, of course, he saw my clothes and weapons on the shore and realized he wasn’t alone. He swam out and joined me, and instead of the unbearable dictator he’d been all week, he was more like his old self. Tired and sort of world weary, I guess, but not hiding behind the impenetrable wall he’d been keeping up around me during training.”
He felt Jarrad’s growing discomfort, so he smiled. “Nothing happened between us that night, if that’s what you’re thinking. We just talked. Really talked. It was nice. And that’s when I knew that what I felt for him was love. Even though he’d been a jerk, and it was a while still before either of us admitted it to each other, I knew that night that I was in love with him.” He paused, then said, “Why do you ask?”
Jarrad looked subdued as he shrugged. “I don’t know. A glutton for punishment maybe.”
“Am I supposed to know what you mean by that?”
Jarrad gave him a sad half smile. “Nothing. It doesn’t matter anyway.”
“What’s on your mind, Jarrad, because obviously something is.”
“It’s stupid. And irrelevant. In both cases.”
Again Wesley studied him, sensing a lingering hurt deep inside Jarrad.
He shook is head. “Never mind. Forget I said that. It’s not important.”
“It might make you feel better to talk about it…whatever it is.”
“Gods, sometimes you’re as stubborn as my brother,” he grumbled.
But before Wesley could respond, he sighed and continued. “Fine. It’s of little consequence at this point, but it might interest you to know that while you were…” He looked uncomfortable again. “Well….while you were noticing Wen all those weeks, you were being noticed, too.”
“By Wen. I know. He’s told me.”
“Not just by Wen.”
“What?” And then it hit Wesley. Hard. Like a blow to the gut. “Oh. Ohhhhh…. Jarrad. I…”
“I know. You didn’t realize it. It’s okay. Like I said, it’s irrelevant now. But just so you’re aware, if my brother ever fucks up…” Then he smiled and gave an awkward chuckle. “Well, he won’t, because Wen’s about as loyal as they come. And he really loves you. He’s crazy about you. I’m not even sure if he can function without you at this point. So…”
“I had no idea. I’m sorry.”
“What are you apologizing for? You have an incredible relationship with my brother.”
“I’m still sorry I didn’t realize how you felt. You’re my best friend. I should have noticed.”
“Honestly, Wes, it’s probably better that you didn’t. I think if you had, if you’d…I don’t know, felt sorry for me, or something, it would have been worse. And besides”—he sighed deeply and dragged a hand through his hair, then smiled—“I’m okay how things worked out. I…” He hesitated.
“You?” Wesley encouraged, hoping maybe this was when Jarrad would tell him about his lover.
But instead Jarrad shook his head. “I’m just in a weird mood tonight. Not myself. I shouldn’t have had the fight with Al. It wasn’t about anything that was his fault, just me being moody and tired. A bad combination. In fact, I think I really need to go to bed.” He rose from the table.
Wesley rose as well. “You don’t have to leave just because you told me about your feelings.”
“Yeah. I think I do. I need to sleep before I fuck up anything else,” he said sheepishly. “Night, Wesley. See you in the morning.”
He took off at a fast clip, and though a part of Wesley wanted to follow him because he hated how awkwardly they’d parted, he had a strong sense Jarrad needed to be alone for a while.
But understanding and honoring Jarrad’s need for solitude didn’t stop the questions that suddenly pounded through Wesley’s head, especially the biggest one…
If Jarrad had, and possibly still did, have feelings for him, then what was going on with the sad, frightened, disappearing stranger?