Dark Magick Rising (Draegan Lords Book 5) by M.L. Rhodes
Copyright 2019 by M.L. Rhodes, All Rights Reserved
Wesley had told Wen the situation in the courtyard was nothing he couldn’t handle. As he ran toward the training area, he hoped that was true. The teenaged trainee who’d come to find him had been nervous and unsettled when he told Wesley someone was causing problems, but the details he’d offered had been scant. So Wesley wasn’t sure what he’d be facing.
He quickly found out, though, as he approached and saw the trainees gathered in a circle. It wasn’t the circle that worried him, however. It was the two men at its center, tangling on the ground in a fist fight. And one of them was Jarrad.
Al was unsuccessfully attempting to pull apart Jarrad and a stocky, dark-headed young man Wesley had never seen before. The dark-headed man seemed to be giving as much as he got, and he clearly outweighed Jarrad. But before Wesley could reach them, Jarrad managed to gain the upper hand, flipping the other man onto his back with a thud. Straddling him, Jarrad began whaling on him with no compunction, hitting him over and over with such vicious power it stunned Wesley.
“Jarrad!” he called as he ran up.
Al was still trying to get hold of Jarrad, reaching for and missing his arm. Another of the trainees had moved closer and was trying to do the same on the other side, but Jarrad had become a mad man now, throwing punch after punch, seemingly oblivious to the attempts to stop him. The man on the ground, who’d only moments before been fighting back, now lay limp as Jarrad continued to unleash his fury on him without pause.
The sight simultaneously sickened and created a surge of anger in Wesley. “What in hel? Stop!” he shouted.
When Jarrad didn’t even acknowledge him, Wesley reacted on gut instinct, moving behind him, dodging Jarrad’s flying fist, and capturing him in a choke-hold, with an arm wrapped around his throat.
Jarrad still tried to fight on, so Wesley tightened the pressure, and kept tightening it until Jarrad finally ceased pounding on the other man and grasped Wesley’s arm with his hands instead.
“Enough,” Wesley ordered. “You hear me? Enough!”
Jarrad was making choking noises now, so Wesley lessened the pressure just a bit, but didn’t release him. “This is done, Jarrad.”
Finally, chest heaving, Jarrad gave a slight nod. Wesley held the pressure for just a moment longer, to be sure Jarrad got the message, then pulled Jarrad up. After he’d released him with a shove, he ground out, “Go to the common room. Now!”
Jarrad gave him a shocked look. Then he swallowed hard and his gaze dropped to the other man still lying on the ground, battered and bloody, and his shock not only grew more visible on his face, but Wesley felt it billowing off him in waves, as if he were only just now realizing what he’d done.
“Go. Right now,” Wesley said again, his tone inviting no argument.
Taking another swallow, Jarrad nodded, backing away. Then he turned and ran.
Wesley’s gaze returned to the man on the ground, whom Jarrad had beaten into unconsciousness. At the sight of his swollen, bloodied face, a tight knot of dread…and…oh gods…a violent need to attack twisted through Wesley’s gut.
No! Not now!
But fury lanced through him again, along with another surge of the hot blood lust, and it was all he could do to swallow it back. Which is when he realized it wasn’t just anger at Jarrad’s actions he’d felt earlier. He suddenly knew it came in part from whatever animal instinct inside him wanted the blood and couldn’t have it. It took every ounce of his self control to look away from the beaten man because his instincts told him to lunge. To feed.
“Someone care to tell me what in hel happened here?” he managed to get out, the gravelly tone of his voice surprising him. He felt his hands shaking, but quickly clenched them into fists at his side before anyone noticed. Even though he’d turned away from seeing the blood, he could still smell it, and it was wreaking havoc inside him.
“This is Risa’s brother,” Al said, looking nearly as shaken as Wesley felt, pointing to the man on the ground. “He showed up a while ago and didn’t want Risa to train. When she refused to leave with him, he tried to make her. That’s when I sent someone to get you. He and Jarrad argued and…and then got into a fight, and…” He stopped, clearly at a loss to describe what had come over Jarrad and happened next.
Wesley drew in a deep breath, still battling the powerful cravings and the unhealthy rush of anger within himself.
Somehow, by some miraculous feat of self preservation and control, he continued to keep all of that tamped down within him. He looked at the circle of trainees standing around him, then the man on the ground. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Risa, her hands over her face, crying.
That softened Wesley’s anger enough he could feel Risa’s pain bleeding through his own crap. “Al, make sure she’s okay.”
Allend nodded and turned to Risa, speaking softly to her.
Continuing to exert an iron will over his sick urges, Wesley dragged in a deep breath and sank to a crouch next to the young man, reaching to feel for a pulse on his bloody neck. But then he realized he didn’t have to—he could see the man’s chest moving, though his breathing was ragged and unsteady; he looked bad.
“What’s his name?”
“Lochlann,” Risa said, her voice choked with tears.
“All right, we need to get him to the healer. Could I have some volunteers to do that, please?”
Several trainees stepped forward to help, gathering around Lochlann and lifting him.
Wesley knew he should be assisting them, but if he didn’t get away from all the blood, he wasn’t sure how long he’d be able to hold himself back. And then things would get even uglier.
He directed the trainees to take Lochlann up to Lilia and said he’d be up shortly.
“Risa, do you want to go with them?”
She was still teary, but not outright crying any longer. “I don’t want to be anywhere near my brother right now,” she said, leaning against Allend.
“Okay. I’d like ask you some questions, though, if you’re up for it. In private. Allend can come as well if you’d like.”
Risa sniffled and nodded.
Wesley turned to the remaining trainees.
“I’m sorry this happened, everyone, but I’ll get to the bottom of it. In the meantime, back to work. Hadlow?”
“I’d like you to take over the drills until I return.”
The older man looked surprised, but pleased. “Yes, sir.”
Inwardly, Wesley sighed. He’d told the trainees more than once they didn’t have to call him “sir” because he didn’t actually have a rank. Al had shrugged off Wesley’s discomfort and said they did it because they respected him, but it still made Wesley feel weird. “I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
Wesley turned and motioned Al and Risa to follow him.
His lust for blood had eased slightly, along with most of his anger, now that Risa’s battered brother had been taken away. But in its place—or maybe it had been there all along and he just hadn’t realized it because the bloodlust overpowered it—a horrified knot of sickness churned in Wesley’s gut. Right now, though, he had to ignore that, too. First he had to get to the bottom of what had caused Jarrad to lose control the way he had. What in hel had he been thinking? Wesley had never seen anyone in such a state of mindless fury.
Once they’d exited the walls of the courtyard and were well out of anyone else’s hearing, Wesley stopped.
“First and foremost, Risa, are you okay?” he asked. Clearly she was upset—but Wesley also sensed she was in pain, and not just the emotional kind.
When he saw her rub her right elbow and upper arm and wince, the reaction told him her brother had hurt her, damn it.
“Did Lochlann injure you anywhere else besides your arm? I can ask Lilia to come to you when she’s finished with your brother. That way you don’t have to be too close to him.” He managed to keep his voice gentle, though his anger wanted badly to flare up again at the idea of Risa’s brother harming her.
“I’ll be okay. It…it’s just my arm and I’m sure it’s just a bruise,” she said.
Wesley hoped that’s all it was. “Maybe you should have Lilia look at it anyway, to be on the safe side.”
She sighed and nodded.
“I have to ask…why would your brother try to make you leave training against your will?”
A tight expression formed on her face. Even if Wesley hadn’t been an empath, that expression said much about her feelings toward her sibling.
“Lochlann had issues about coming here to Kellesborne. He… Well…he doesn’t trust humans. He’s still angry about losing our parents a few months ago.”
When Wesley cocked his head, trying to follow her logic, she rushed to explain.
“They were killed by Byram’s soldiers, but Lochlann also blames the humans in the village where we lived. He thinks someone in the village betrayed us. When the soldiers came for our family, our parents shoved us out the back door and told us to run and they’d find us…but…” She shook her head and her voice caught. “The soldiers torched the house. It happened so fast. Everything went up in flames, and Mum and Dad didn’t make it out.”
Oh gods. “I’m so sorry,” Wesley said, reading the sharp pang of her grief and fear.
“After that, we were on our own. Loch wouldn’t let us go anywhere near any human villages or settlements—said we could only trust ourselves. We lived in the forest, avoiding soldiers and hiding. But then our baby brother, Neric, came down sick. We did what we could for him, but he got worse. I kept telling Lochlann we needed a real healer, that we should go to Kellesborne because we’d heard from another group of draegans that the draegan lord was moving his camp here. But Lochlann refused because it was common knowledge the draegan lord shared his camp with humans, and it was rumored he’d even mated with a half human. Loch went even more crazy when we got here and found out Lord Hareldson was gone and Lord Rizik was now the draegan lord.”
“So how did you finally make your way here if your brother was so against it?” Wesley asked.
“Neric’s health continued to worsen, and Loch continued to refuse to seek help. So, one night while Lochlann was off hunting, I took matters into my own hands. I wrapped Neric up in blankets and started out on my own to come here. When Loch discovered we were gone, he came after us and, when he caught up, he argued with me the whole way, tried to make me turn back. But I refused. I wasn’t going to lose my little brother because of Loch’s stubbornness. After we arrived here, Lilia said…” Risa’s voice caught again and a tear trickled down her cheek. “She said Neric wouldn’t have made it if we’d waited even another day.”
She swiped her eyes with the back of her hand in an angry motion. “I was so mad at Lochlann for delaying us coming here. And even more so when he wanted to leave again right away. Lilia told him we’d be risking Neric’s life if we left and didn’t give him time to fully recover, but Lochlann didn’t believe her because she’s human. Never mind she saved our brother’s life…” Risa said bitterly. “He and I had a huge argument, and he finally backed down, at least for a while. But he still wants us to go as soon as Neric can travel.”
Wesley was beginning to put the pieces together in his head. “So he didn’t want you to do weapons training.” It was a statement, not a question.
“No. He didn’t want us to get involved at all while we were here—he’d rather we didn’t interact or even talk to anyone. But I’m sick of hiding and running scared. I’m tired of living in the woods with no protection. I joined training so I can learn how to fight. But I didn’t tell Lochlann. He thought I’d been helping one of the mother’s in the castle, who has small kids Neric’s age. In truth, she’s been watching Neric while I come here each day.”
“Then today Lochlann happened by the courtyard and saw her,” Allend said, speaking up for the first time.
“He was furious I was here. He wanted me to stop, but I told him no. So he…” All sign of tears gone now, an angry glint shone in her eyes. “He grabbed my arm and tried to make me go with him. Tried to drag me away. Allend shoved him away from me and got between us, and Jarrad pushed him farther back.”
“That’s when Lochlann started saying a lot of not nice things about humans, and Jarrad kind of lost it,” Allend said. “Lochlann threw the first punch, but after that, Jarrad… Well, I’ve never seen him like that before, Wesley. The way he was there at the end.”
“Loch was egging him on, though,” Risa added in Jarrad’s defense.
“At first,” Al agreed, “but eventually he couldn’t even do that, and still Jarrad wouldn’t stop. You saw him, Wes. He was completely out of his mind. I don’t know what got into him.”
Neither did Wesley, but he was going to find out. He just hoped Jarrad had actually gone to the draeganjhere common room like he’d told him and was still there.
“Let me ask you a question, Risa. You said you were tired of living in the open with no protection and you want to learn to fight. Do you want to stay here at Kellesborne?”
“Yes,” Risa said earnestly, without hesitation. “I want to stay and I want to continue training. Especially after today. I want to do what’s best for my baby brother, and that’s to live where he has a roof over his head, food to eat, and a healer nearby. Loch’s so caught up in his anger he’d rather risk Neric’s life than admit we need help.”
“If you tell Lochlann that you plan to stay, will he cause problems for you?”
She swallowed hard. “He won’t like it. But I wouldn’t have thought he’d act the way he did today, not out in public anyway, so I’m not sure if he’d cause more problems or not. I just… I feel like I don’t even know him anymore.”
Not out in public. Those words sent another flare of concern and anger through Wesley because they implied that perhaps Lochlann’s manhandling of Risa had happened before, when no one else had been around to witness—or stop—it.
“All right, the first thing we need to do is find you a place to live in the castle that’s apart from Lochlann. I don’t think it’s a good idea for you or your little brother to be around him.”
“She and Neric can stay with us,” Allend said. “Mum won’t mind, and Jarrad moved out to the draeganjhere quarters last night, so we have plenty of extra room.”
The news about Jarrad moving out of his family’s living space surprised Wesley. He’d had no idea.
“Would that be okay with you?” Wesley asked Risa.
Her eyes welled with tears once again, but this time Wesley felt gratefulness radiating off of her. “Yes. If you’re sure?” she asked, looking at Allend.
Al gazed back at her with a look that was nothing short of starry eyed. “Of course.”
“All right. Al, go with Risa to get Neric, gather their things, and help her get settled into your family’s rooms. Lochlann is probably going to be under Lilia’s care for a bit, so this is a good chance to do it without any interference from him. And when I go up to check on Lochlann, Risa, assuming he’s regained consciousness, I’ll tell him that you and Neric are staying here at Kellesborne and henceforth you’re both off limits to him. You have the protection of the draeganjhere at your back, and living under Allend’s and Marta’s protection as well, we’ll make sure he doesn’t bother either of you.”
“Thank you, Wesley. Thank you so much.” She threw herself into his arms, and Wesley found himself patting her back and looking over the shoulder of her cloak at Allend, who was also mouthing, “Thank you,” to him. Wesley gave him a nod.
After he sent Allend and Risa on their way, Wesley entered the castle, where he found parchment and ink and wrote a quick note to Lilia, asking her not to let Lochlann leave her treatment rooms, if he was even capable of it. Wesley sent it up with Tim and asked Tim to stay until he could get there himself, in case Lochlann caused any further problems. The last thing Wesley wanted was to have Lochlann lash out at Lilia and maybe hurt her if she tried to make him stay. Better to leave that to a member of the draeganjhere.
They had to get the situation with Lochlann under control as quickly as possible, though, because from what Wen had said earlier, they couldn’t afford to have even one member of the already stretched-thin draeganjhere tied up day and night to keep him in line.
Once he’d finished speaking with Tim, Wesley took a deep breath and released it slowly.
Time to talk to Jarrad…