Dark Magick Rising (Draegan Lords Book 5) by M.L. Rhodes
Copyright 2019 by M.L. Rhodes, All Rights Reserved
Morning rolled around far too soon, and Wen groaned when he opened his eyes and saw the gray light of dawn seeping around the edges of the drapes.
But the heavy warm weight next to and half on top of him, the long legs tangled with his own, and the soft snoring coming from the tousled dark head resting on his chest suddenly made his exhaustion and sleep deprivation far more bearable. So bearable, in fact, he smiled.
Gods, that had been one hel of a welcome home last night. He’d said it so many times, and probably would keep saying it forever, but Wesley continually surprised him.
After Wes had been gone with Al all those weeks, he’d come back with more confidence than when he’d left. This time, Wen had only been away from him for a week, but Wesley’s self assurance seemed to have once again flourished. And that was just in their relationship. Wen suspected he’d see it even more in daily life and in Wesley’s dealings with the draeganjhere.
It was fascinating, even exciting, to watch Wesley coming into his own. But it was equally endearing that beneath his growing confidence, he still had such a gentle soul. Wen experienced Wesley’s emotions as if they were his own, so he knew Wesley’s heart, and felt damned lucky and more than a little proud to have him as his mate. His sweet, strong, undeniably sexy mate.
Last night, though… A tremor of desire coursed through Wen even now as he remembered.
There was something madly enthralling about Wesley bossing him around, but then giving himself over to Wen with abandon. Not only encouraging Wen to take him any and every way he wished, but deriving immense pleasure from it. Pleasure that Wen could feel even as Wesley did.
And that was the beautiful, complicated gift Wesley offered. Somehow, the bossiness and the surrendering himself during intimacy, two things that should have been at odds, merged together into a perfect union when it came to Wesley. And it made Wen love him all the more. He was pretty damn sure there’d never be a day of their life together where he wasn’t grateful for this man who slept at his side.
They’d eventually cleaned up last night and shared a mug of wine before collapsing into bed for a scant few hours of sleep. They’d both been too tired to catch each other up on what had been going on while they were apart. There’d be time for that later today. But just being able to fall asleep with the man he loved and, now, wake up next to him as well, was the best thing that had happened to Wen in weeks. Especially knowing, or at least hoping, he wouldn’t have to be away from Wes for a while.
Gods, please don’t make me have to be away from him for a while.
Wesley stirred, stretching, and one warm hand slid across Wen’s chest, then down over his abdomen. It didn’t stop until his fingers curled around Wen’s half-hard cock. He didn’t say a word, just lay there, holding Wen’s erection, this thumb sliding up and over and around the head in a sensuous motion.
“Did you want something?” Wen finally asked, keeping his voice low, and smiling as his shaft responded to such sweet temptation.
“I always want something,” Wesley murmured, his voice soft and still husky from sleep.
“And to think, all those weeks ago you accused me of being so singularly focused.”
Wesley lifted his head then and turned to look up at Wen with a smile. “I realized while you were gone that since we finally told each other how we felt, we haven’t had a lot of time together. So I’ve decided to make it my mission that every second we are together, counts.”
“Sounds like a wise strategy.”
“I thought so. Do you have anywhere you urgently need to be in the next few minutes?”
“Right here is the only place I plan to be for a bit. Because if your ‘good morning’ is as spectacular as your ‘welcome home’ was last night, nothing’s going to tear me away from it. And just so you know, a few minutes is not going to be long enough.”
“Well then, we’d best get busy.”
The warm, half-sleepy, mind-shattering smile Wesley gave him was worth every single second of travel it had taken Wen to get home.
* * *
By the time he was dressed and making his way to the library tower an hour later, to meet with Lord Rizik and the others, Wen’s outlook on the threats they faced and his worry over what was to come had significantly improved. Hard not to be after a wake-up like that.
Oh yeah. It had definitely been a good morning, he thought with a smile, and hoped Wesley was still smiling, also, like he’d been when they parted ways with a lingering kiss.
Wen spent most of the day huddled with Lord Rizik, Iann, and his mum as they sifted through all the intel they’d gotten on their flight over Velensperia. Byram’s war machine was far bigger and farther reaching than they’d ever imagined. Sadly, being reminded of just how immense the threat was had the effect of dimming the pleasant sheen he’d experienced earlier in the morning.
He and Lord Rizik agreed they absolutely had to increase their guard presence around the perimeter of Kellesborne, but once again Wen was faced with the ugly knowledge they simply didn’t have guards to do everything they needed.
Which was why, midway through the afternoon, he found himself heading to the training courtyard with the hope that maybe, just maybe, if it was his very lucky day, Wesley might be able to suggest a couple of extra people who could be promoted to guard duty for the draeganjhere. At this point, he’d take whatever he could get.
He’d known Wesley would do an excellent job of heading up training. But when he entered the courtyard and saw the trainees in action, the orderly, disciplined drills, the confidence everyone from the youngest to the oldest conveyed, Wen couldn’t have been more pleased. Or any prouder.
The weather was miserable—a light fog hung over the side of the mountain, along with the kind of bitter, damp cold that ate through everything—yet it didn’t seem to deter the trainees from working hard. And Wen couldn’t help but notice how they all looked to, and showed obvious respect for, Wesley as he moved among them, praising and occasionally stopping to correct someone’s position or give a bit of advice.
Wen stood and watched for a few minutes, not wanting to interrupt. He knew Wesley was aware he was there in spite of the fact he had his back to Wen—knew because he could feel Wesley’s pleasure at sensing him nearby, along with an underlying tingle of need. He suspected that came from Wesley remembering how they’d spent their night and early morning.
Wesley had stopped to help a young draegan woman—she was a fairly new arrival and, as Wen recalled, had come to Kellesborne with an older brother and a sick younger brother. Wen thought he remembered the girl’s name was Risa, and she was probably about Al’s age. Currently, she was going through the paces of shooting a bow and clearly had little experience with it. Watching Wesley give her advice, lift her elbow a bit higher, and encourage her when her arrow hit outside the center ring of the target, brought back memories for Wen of the first time Wesley had shot a bow.
The girl nocked another arrow, and Wesley helped her again, speaking quietly to her. This time, the girl got a nice, solid hit within the outer ring of the target. She turned with an excited look on her face, and Wesley congratulated her. He said a few more words to her, then turned and headed toward Wen, a smile on his face.
Wen couldn’t help but smile, too, as Wesley strolled across the courtyard toward him.
When he got to Wen, neither of them reached for one another, even though Wen knew Wesley wanted to as badly as he did. But this wasn’t the time and place and they both knew it. Instead, Wen felt it all through their emotional link. And saw it in the sparkle in Wesley’s eyes.
“What brings you down here to training, Lieutenant Daneson? Not that I’m complaining about seeing you.”
“I missed you,” Wen said softly.
Wesley’s equally soft chuckle sent a ripple of warmth straight to Wen’s heart.
“I missed you, too. More than you know. But…something tells me that’s not the only reason you’ve come.”
“I can’t hide anything from you, can I?”
That brought back Wen’s smile. “Okay, well, first, I just wanted to see how things are going, see if you needed anything. I’m not at all surprised, though, to find everything’s even better than I expected.”
Wesley looked out at the trainees, his smile turning fond now. “Things are good. They’re all working hard and are eager to learn.”
“They have a damn good teacher.”
Wesley turned back to look at him and modestly shrugged a shoulder. “I have help.”
Wen had seen Jarrad and Al both working with trainees, and he was proud of his brothers for stepping up to assist Wesley. He’d been a little worried that Jarrad might have been offended when Wen gave the training command to Wesley instead of to him. But Jarrad could be hot-headed and impatient at times. He also had a habit of rushing into things, acting or speaking first in the heat of the moment, and not thinking about it until later. He meant well, but his first reactions weren’t always conducive to putting people at ease. Wesley, on the other hand, had a calmer demeanor better suited for helping people, for listening, and for making solid decisions.
So, as far as Wen was concerned, between Wesley’s stellar skill with weapons and his inherent leadership ability, there’d been no contest. Wesley was always going to be the perfect person for this job, even if he weren’t Wen’s mate. But Jarrad had seemed to take the news okay when Wen had told him. And here, today, he appeared to be handling his job as assistant just fine. Besides, Jarrad had been the main one to spread the story of Wesley’s skilled deeds weeks ago, singing his praises. Wen knew his brother had been genuinely proud of Wesley, which had probably helped ease the sting of having Wesley get the job over him.
“I’m glad you have Jarrad and Al to help you, but you’re the real reason these people are here, Wes. You’re the one motivating them. You’re the one they clearly look up to.”
“You’re reading people now? I thought I was the empath,” Wesley teased.
Wen smiled. “I don’t have to sense their emotions. I’ve been standing here watching, and I can observe their body language, see how they look at and listen to you. You’re doing an amazing job.”
Wesley blushed. Or maybe it was just the cold making his cheeks red. But Wen knew him well and, no, it was a blush.
“Well…thank you. I’m trying to do a job worthy of you and Lord Rizik and the way you two used to run training.”
“You are. So much so that right now, I actually need your opinion and advice.”
Wesley’s expression turned serious. “What’s up?”
Wen sighed. “We didn’t really get a chance to talk last night or this morning about what Lord Rizik, Iann, and I saw on our travels. But things are even worse than we first believed.” He lowered his voice to be sure no one could overhear them. “The high sorcerer’s amassing troops all across Velensperia. He’s even recruited vorgrals.”
Wesley’s face registered surprise. “Vorgrals? I’ve always heard they do nothing but fight with one another over their territory. Constant clan wars.”
“You’ve heard right. I have no idea how Byram convinced them to fight for him—by bribes or threats or gods only know—but they are. That’s who tore through Gabaxis and destroyed it. The hundred or so vorgrals that stayed behind are building a fortress in Gabaxis. There are more troops—human and vorgral—in the mountains and surrounding areas. It looks like Byram’s keeping them hidden until he’s ready for them to march. We can only assume he plans to hit other towns just as he did Gabaxis.”
“If he’s recruited the vorgrals and nyctophans, who or what else is working for him?”
“Good question. What we do know is that even though we’re settled in, and Kellesborne continues to stay hidden to outside eyes thanks to magick, at last count we have 382 souls living here now, with more coming in each week.”
Again he felt a jolt of surprise from Wesley. “That many? I knew it was a lot, but I had no idea. The number’s more than doubled since leaving the forest camp.”
“Yeah. We have more humans than draegans now, and most of the population is civilians, with many of those children. And they’re all expecting our protection. With potential spies gods know where, and thousands of soldiers roaming the land, we can’t afford to let the sorcerer even suspect where the castle lies. In spite of the magick protections around the mountain, we’re still vulnerable if trouble comes to our doorstep. We need to increase our patrols, but…”
“But we’re short on bodies to fill the positions.”
Wen nodded grimly. “Which is why I’m here.”
“You want to know if we have trainees who might be able to do some guard duty?”
“I know they don’t have much preparation yet, and even less experience, but you know most of these people better than I do now. In your opinion—and please be honest—are there any who might be able to work? Even filling partial shifts within the castle itself would be helpful at this point.”
Wesley took a deep breath and studied the trainees across the courtyard. “I think there are a handful who could handle light duty. But it would be best if they could still have enough free time to get to training each day alongside their guard shifts.”
“Absolutely. We can make that work. If I can even have a couple of extra people to help fill positions within the castle and walking the immediate perimeter around it, it will allow me to send a few more people down to Solanis at the guard camp. There are so many of the sorcerer’s soldiers along the base of the mountains these days, I’ll feel better if we’re more heavily fortified down there.”
“There’re some trainees who can definitely help. And I can also take some extra shifts if you need me to.”
“According to my mum, you’ve already been taking night shifts in addition to training. That’s more than your fair share, Wes. You’ve got to have time to sleep, too.”
“Says the man who’s the king of working too hard and never sleeping,” Wesley said dryly, giving him a pointed look.
Wen had the grace to bite his lip and give Wesley a sheepish smile. “Yeah, okay, I guess I’m not going to win any arguments using that offense, am I?”
Wesley flashed him a half smile. “No, you’re really not.”
“Well, how about this…you magickally conjure up a couple of people who can fill some guard spots for me, and then you won’t need to double up.”
“Also…” Wen lowered his voice even further, barely speaking above a whisper now. “Have you had any luck on the side project I gave you?”
“Not yet,” Wesley whispered back. “I still can’t read specifics in a whole group at once, so I’m having to do it one person at a time. So far, there’s been nothing obvious that I would associate with someone plotting against Lord Rizik. But it’s a slow process. I’ll keep at it.”
Wen nodded. “Understood. And thank you.” He gave Wesley a meaningful look, and hoped Wesley could read just how much he truly did appreciate it. If there was any chance at all Wesley might be able to suss out a spy or anyone else who might be trying to stir trouble, the time he was taking to read people would be invaluable.
Returning to a more normal tone, he said, “If you want to point out the trainees you think might be ready for some light guard duty, we can talk to them together. Like Lord Rizik, I don’t want to force anyone into something they’re not willing to do.”
“I think you might be surprised at just how willing most of these people will be to help.” Wesley shook his head and looked out at the trainees again. “We’re beyond having people show up at training simply because they want to learn how to protect themselves and their families. Most of them feel safe at Kellesborne, here within the castle walls, having the protection of the old draegan lord magick and the draeganjhere. Or at least safer than they did living in the open forest or small settlements prone to attacks by soldiers. I think most of the people here at training now want to learn to fight for bigger reasons. They’re training because they want to earn a spot in the draeganjhere.”
“Is that speculation, or is that what you’re actually picking up from them?”
“It’s what they’re feeling. They’re angry about Byram, and they’re afraid, but it’s gone beyond that. I think losing Lord Hareldson, watching Lord Rizik step up to take on the role of draegan lord when he comes from a very different background, the move to Kellesborne, the humans and draegans united and working together…all of those things have solidified in them a strong sense of loyalty. I think they want to fight to protect this community, to protect everyone in Byram’s path who’re losing lives for senseless reasons. Word spread while you were gone about the attack at Gabaxis. They know war is upon us.”
Wen swallowed hard. “I’m not going to lie to you, Wes.” He dropped his voice to a whisper again. “I’m scared for these trainees. I’m scared for all of us. What Lord Rizik, Iann, and I saw when we were out there…” He shook his head. “As few in number as we are compared to the sorcerer’s legions, the likelihood of us winning this war is grim.”
Wesley briefly curled his fingers around Wen’s and squeezed. Wen knew Wesley sensed his fears.
“I suspect everyone out here today already knows that,” Wesley said, keeping his voice equally quiet. “And yet, here they are, working hard for an opportunity to fight back. This is the first chance many of them have ever had to feel like they matter, to escape the oppression they’ve been living under. Training and learning how to fight was the first time in my life I ever felt like I could make a difference. Most of these people feel the same way. Who are we to dissuade them from that?”
Wen drew in, then slowly released a deep breath. This was one of the many, many reasons he not only loved Wesley, but valued his opinion. Wesley knew better than most how it felt to be repressed, yet he continued to fight.
“Thank you,” he said softly. “I needed that reassurance today. ” He hoped Wesley could also feel through their link just how much he loved and appreciated him.
Wesley squeezed his fingers again and gave him a hint of a smile, before letting his hand go.
“All right, let’s talk to the ones you think are ready.”
Wesley nodded. “I’ll go get them.”
“How about we meet in the draeganjhere common room in a few minutes. I need to check with Iann about something and then I’ll be right there.”
* * *
When Wen arrived in the common room, the trainees were waiting with Wesley. Five of them, which surprised the hel out of Wen because when Wesley had said a handful, he’d been hoping for two, or if he was really lucky, three. Five was an outright gift.
He could tell from their expressions they didn’t know why they were being singled out. Wesley obviously hadn’t told them anything, leaving it up to Wen to explain what he needed.
Wen was as honest as he could be about what they were facing, and what he was asking them to do. And though he shouldn’t have been surprised, given what Wesley had said about them earlier, he was…when every one of them quickly agreed to his proposal.
“It’s important that you still make it to training each day to hone your skills, so I don’t want to overload you. What I’d like to start with is to have each of you work some short evening shifts alongside a senior member of the draeganjhere until you learn what’s expected.” He turned to Wesley. “Wes?”
Wesley nodded. “I can take a couple with me, starting this evening, if you want them to begin right away.”
“Good. That would be excellent. I’m going to be flying with Lord Rizik the next several nights, making sure the sorcerer hasn’t put up any new nets above and around us. But after that, I can also work with some of you. Until then, I’ll speak to Corliss and Orlinda, who are doing castle sentry shifts the next few evenings.” He looked at Wesley. “I think they’d be good mentors, don’t you?”
He looked back at the trainees. “Once I’ve spoken with them, I’ll let you all know your schedules.”
After he’d thanked them and excused them to go back to training, the older human man Wesley had introduced as Hadlow approached him.
“Thank you for this opportunity, Lieutenant Daneson. I’ve seen too many die needlessly over the years at the sorcerer’s hands, and I’m honored to finally be able to do something to help. Many people would think I’m too old for this, but I’m willing to work as long and as hard as I need to.”
Wen rested a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “We’re honored to have you. Age should never be a deterrent from doing what’s in your heart.”
“That’s what Wesley says. And each time I fret over it, he reminds me to look at Iann and all he does, as a case in point.”
Wen glanced at Wesley, who was speaking to a trainee who’d just come to the door. “Wesley’s a wise man. You should definitely listen to him. I always do.”
Hadlow smiled and thanked him again before taking his leave.
As Wen headed across the room, Wesley met him halfway.
“I need to get back to the courtyard,” Wesley said. Wen felt a flicker of concern and urgency rippling along their link.
“Trouble?” he asked.
“Nothing I can’t handle.” And then, since they were the only two people left in the room, Wesley leaned in and gave him a quick kiss. “See you later?”
Wesley gave him a brief smile, then turned and jogged away.
Wen wanted to follow him. Whatever had happened in the courtyard had definitely made Wesley anxious, and Wen’s first instinct was to help. But he didn’t follow, because Wesley had said he could handle it, and Wen trusted him to do exactly that. If he’d needed Wen’s aid, he would have asked.
Besides, Wen had work to do. He needed to go meet with Solanis at the guard camp and let him know that, hopefully, as early as tonight, but certainly by tomorrow night, he’d have more help. Plus, he’d been away a full week and, though his mother had already given him a brief rundown, Wen wanted to get a report directly from Solanis about everything that had occurred while he’d been away. Including, and specifically, the details of Jax taking off with Caleb.
Wen exited through the smaller side door of the castle and, after stashing his clothes and weapons in a nearby clearing, he shifted into his winged form and rose from the ground. The weather was no-less wretched in the sky, but at least the fog concealed his daytime flight from any of Byram’s troops that might be at the base of the mountains.
Apparently, the first day Lord Rizik, Iann, and Wen had been gone, Jax had visited the guard camp to interrogate Caleb. Several hours later, he’d freed Caleb from his cell and left with him. No one had seen them since. Wen could tell that Lord Rizik was less than happy about it, and his mum…well, she hadn’t been thrilled they’d rescued Jax at all, so he felt certain she was struggling to bite her tongue and keep from saying “I told you so.” But in spite of his concern, Lord Rizik still claimed to have faith in Jax, and was making the assumption that Caleb had told Jax something convincing enough for Jax to leave with him, perhaps to follow up on it or validate it.
Wen wasn’t sure what to think. On one hand, he trusted Lord Rizik implicitly. On the other hand, even after living in the same camp with Jax all of his life, and knowing that up until recently Jax had been Lord Hareldson’s best friend, Wen had issues with the way Jax had treated Lord Rizik before he was banished. Nor could he forget Jax had tried to kill Lord Hareldson. He couldn’t imagine that anyone he considered a close friend could suddenly upset him enough he’d want to try to hurt them, which made it hard to understand Jax.
Jax’s anger toward humans had always bubbled under the surface, but Wen had never seen it flare as hotly or violently as it had until Lord Rizik arrived. He suspected there was some jealousy involved, though he didn’t know any details.
So, in spite of Lord Rizik’s attempt at confidence in Jax, Wen had some misgivings. Which meant he wasn’t sure what to think about Jax’s disappearance so soon after they’d all risked their damn lives to save him. Not to mention, Wesley and Al had risked their lives to capture Caleb and bring him here. And now, both Jax and Caleb were gone, without a word.
Though he doubted Solanis could tell him much of anything beyond what his mother already had said, Wen wanted to get Solanis’s account firsthand, nonetheless. Because he needed to know if, in addition to Byram and the hel demon Moh’dredion, he also needed to be prepared for an additional threat led by Jax and Caleb.
Gods, some days he really wished he could just go back to bed.