Dark Magick Rising (Draegan Lords Book 5) by M.L. Rhodes
Copyright 2019 by M.L. Rhodes, All Rights Reserved
Wen had given Wesley several minutes to swim in peace, content to watch him and feel his emotional upheaval settling. But eventually, though he hated the possibility of undoing the good of his swim, he’d gently prodded Wesley telepathically and asked him again what had happened that afternoon.
He’d been relieved when Wesley opened up to him without losing the emotional ground he’d gained. Or at least not too much of it. Wen had encouraged him to stay in the water while they talked, since they could use mind-speak and it would be warmer for Wes.
Now, as they flew back to Kellesborne, Wesley was silent, his head resting against Wen’s neck, his body still warm and relaxed. Between the swim, the talking, and the soothing magick Wen still had flowing, the outing seemed to have helped Wesley more than Wen had even hoped it might.
But it didn’t change the fact they had much to deal with once they returned to the castle.
Wen was worried about Jarrad. Wesley had told him the whole story of what had happened in the courtyard, and of his conversation with Jarrad afterward, along with his suspicions that the nyctophan attack still weighed on Jarrad far more deeply than he’d let on. Wes had also told him about Jarrad’s mystery lover, and the odd experience Wesley had had the night he’d read the person, then they disappeared, then, a while later, reappeared in Wesley’s senses.
All of it made Wen feel horribly guilty because he’d been so caught up in his responsibilities, he hadn’t checked in on Jarrad recently. Really, not since the night of the nycto attack. So he’d known nothing of what troubled his brother or what was going on in his life. Wesley had suggested that Jarrad could probably use some brotherly support, and Wen had felt bad about that, too…that it had taken Wes saying something to make him realize he should have been doing it all along.
But Jarrad wasn’t the only person Wen was concerned about.
Wesley’s newest bout of bloodlust had obviously shaken him, and the fact it still kept happening weighed heavily on Wesley’s mind. He’d admitted to Wen that he was constantly worried about when it might present again, and if he’d be strong enough to hold it at bay the next time.
Wen wanted to help him, wanted to give Wesley the answers he so desperately craved, but aside from doing some quiet research to find out what caused it, he didn’t know how to ease Wesley’s fears. Sadly, there didn’t seem to be enough hours in the day right now for finding information. He’d intended more than once to slip past Thomas’s watchful eye and see what he could find in the library, but each time, something concerning the draeganjhere had come up and he hadn’t been able to follow through with a search. Which had led him to consider just asking Thomas directly about books concerning the ondaen, and letting Thomas find them for him. But he could think of no way to ask without rousing Thomas’s suspicions as to why he wanted them.
Wesley was as busy as Wen was, so it wasn’t exactly like Wes had a lot of time to browse in the library either.
They could speak to Iann about it. Wen had thought of that, too. Iann had told Wen and his brothers of the ondaen when they were younger, and seemed more knowledgeable than many might be. But, again, they couldn’t ask without making Iann suspicious, and though Wen would fully trust Iann with the truth, it wasn’t his decision to make. Wesley clearly wasn’t ready for anyone else to know yet, and Wen would never push him about it. Which, for now, only left the library…damn it.
The situation with Lochlann, though, had Wen particularly troubled tonight. Lochlann’s anti-human rhetoric, especially regarding Lord Rizik, was exactly what Wen had been afraid of. Wen was out and about amongst the residents of the castle enough that he didn’t think it was commonplace, by any means. Lord Rizik had earned the trust and respect of nearly everyone, including the draegans. But Wen could not shake the feeling someone had intentionally tried to stir Jax up and set him on Lord Rizik. And if Risa’s brother was speaking out against humans in general, and Lord Rizik in particular, then it lent credence to Wen’s fear.
::We need to talk to Lochlann when we get back to the castle,:: he told Wesley as they flew.
::When I stopped to check on him before I went back to training this afternoon, Lilia had given him herbs for his pain that made him sleep. He was out completely. She said he’d most likely stay asleep until morning.::
::Damn.:: Wen hated having something like this hanging out there with no way to quickly resolve it. ::All right, we’ll go see him first thing in the morning then.::
::Are you sure you want me with you?:: Wesley asked. ::He thinks I’m human. Me being there might set him off again.::
::All the more reason for you to be there. If he’s that edgy and easy to anger around humans, I want to know. But I also want you to be there so you can read him. Before we either set him loose, to go his own way, or allow him to stay at Kellesborne, I need to know just how deep his antagonism toward humans really runs. Whether it’s truly borne from grief over his parents or if there’s something more involved happening.”
::Something more as in, you think he might try to harm Lord Rizik?::
::I don’t want to take any chances.::
::Are you going to tell Lord Rizik your concerns about Lochlann?::
Wen had been wrestling with that very thing since Wesley had told him the story—wether or not to go to Lord Rizik.
::For now, no,:: he said, slowly, coming to a decision. ::Lord Rizik has enough on his mind at the moment. As much as I hate it, I have no proof that whoever spoke to Jax that night did it with nefarious intent. And right now, for all we know, this Lochlann could simply be a troubled soul who’s lashing out with misguided anger to assuage his grief. I don’t like what he said, I don’t like how he treated Risa, but in spite of those actions, I can’t automatically assume he’s behind a plot to harm Lord Rizik. We can’t act on anything without talking to Lochlann first and getting more information.::
::I wish I’d been able to focus in on him when I first got to the courtyard,:: Wesley said, ::but all I could pick up was a messy ball of anger that was part his, part Jarrad’s and, sadly, part mine. And then moments later Jarrad had knocked him unconscious. Once someone’s out or asleep, there’s very little detail I can read.::
Guilt and worry began to crawl along their link, and Wen hated that Wes’s emotional reprieve was already waning. He could almost see in his mind Wesley reliving the events of the afternoon…
Actually, what in hel? He wasn’t almost seeing it…he was seeing it.
With a jolt of shock, Wen realized he could suddenly and clearly see, and feel as if they were his own, Wesley’s memories from this afternoon as Wesley replayed them in his head. He experienced Wesley approaching the fight, felt the pounding of his heart, his rapid breathing. And then… Wesley’s bloodlust hit him like a fiery surge of fury, twisting and twining through him, along with a powerful hunger that screamed in his blood, demanding he feed and the consequences be damned. It felt as if it would tear him apart from the inside out, clawing at him, leaving his senses raw.
Bloody fucking hel.
No wonder it terrified Wesley, causing him to doubt himself and his ability to keep it under control.
Barely giving him time to adjust to the horror of that nightmare, Wen saw and felt Jarrad pulsing with his own troubled issues as he punched Lochlann over and over. And Lochlann’s fury lay atop everything, a haze of blackish-red poison, swirling around and through Wen’s senses.
The experience of having Wesley’s remembered emotions and reactions hit him as if they were his own, left Wen reeling, disoriented, his chest tight with pain as if he couldn’t quite breathe. It was so much.
Was this how it was for Wesley all the time? Getting battered with all this gut-wrenching chaos whenever anyone around him experienced big emotions?
The strange memory/vision continued in his mind’s eye where, in spite of his debilitating bloodlust, he saw Wesley’s quick-thinking reaction to shut Jarrad down. And then he also saw a flash of Wesley talking to Allend and Risa afterward, followed by a brief flash of his conversation with, and concern for, Jarrad.
How was he able to see these things in Wesley’s memory? This had never happened before. Was it something to do with Wen being in his winged form and them being able to use a telepathic link to communicate when he was? Did that connection allow him not only to hear Wesley’s thoughts, but see his recent memories as well?
The feeling was odd and unsettling, yet it gave Wen a close-up insight into what Wesley must deal with day in and day out, having so many other people’s emotions thrust onto him, forced to sort them out and cope with them, even as he was trying to deal with his own.
Dear gods. Poor Wes.
If his heart had been aching earlier for Wesley, now it was doing so ten-fold, as it sank in just what it truly meant that Wesley was an empath and how deeply he felt everything.
::You handled the situation better than anyone could have, love,:: he told Wesley, still shaken from what he’d just seen and experienced. ::Even more so, considering how hard you had to fight back and control your own reaction to it all. It’s no wonder you needed to escape the castle for a while after training. All those intense emotions bombarding you so hard and fast…::
::It wasn’t one of my better afternoons. But being out here with you helped. Thank you.::
::Anything I can do to make it easier for you, I will. Always.::
They were close to Kellesborne, and when Wen angled back down through the clouds, this time the damp, clinging chill didn’t dissipate as they landed in his usual clearing near the castle. Full darkness hadn’t quite fallen yet, but with the fog, the grey day had become a gloomy, greyer evening.
As soon as Wesley slid off his back, Wen shifted into his human form. He stepped close to Wesley and cupped his cheek, brushing a thumb over his lips. “I don’t know how you do it, Wes. How you cope with all this emotional overload every day.”
Wesley shrugged. “It’s not always as bad as today.”
“Still, “ Wen said, shaking his head. “The fact you’re able to function at all is a miracle, the way you’re constantly under assault from other people’s emotions.”
“Why do you say it like that? And…” His dark brows drew together, as he raised a hand to cover Wen’s. “You’re upset. Did something happen I don’t know about?”
Wen sighed. “I don’t know how, but when we were flying back here just now, as you were reliving the memories of today in your mind, I saw them. Felt them.”
“Wh…at?” Wesley whispered, staring at him. “I thought you could only read my thoughts if they were directed at you.”
“So did I. That’s how mind speak usually works. But this was more. I don’t know why it happened, why I could connect to your memories. I wasn’t trying.” He didn’t want Wesley to think he’d been intentionally probing. “They just started playing out as you remembered them, and somehow I could see and feel them.”
“Do you think it’s because of the telepathic link? Because you were in your winged form?”
“Maybe. It’s only the second time we’ve used the mind speak like that, and the first time was so brief, perhaps the possibility was there but we just didn’t realize it. I don’t know.”
“What did you see?”
“I saw the fight in the courtyard through your eyes. Saw you stop Jarrad. I saw everything as you were remembering it. And most of all, I felt everything—how hard everyone else’s emotions hit you, how you reacted to the blood.”
He winced and shook his head. “Knowing now how all of that affects you, I feel guilty for ever asking you to read people and look for spies. Expecting you to delve more deeply on top of everything else…it’s too much. I’m so sorry. I never should have asked it of you.”
“It’s not too much to ask. And don’t you dare feel bad. I want to help. I need to help. If I have this ability, I need to use it to assist however I can. I just wish…” His shoulders slumped. “I wish I could do more with it.”
Wesley cut him off before he could argue. “More, as in I wish I were better at reading multiple people at once. But whenever I try, it gets overwhelming. Today I could barely sort out my anger from Jarrad’s and Lochlann’s, and all of that nearly drowned out Risa’s pain. I didn’t even feel her until after I managed to get my own muddled mess of emotions locked down and Lochlann was unconscious and Jarrad was gone.” He huffed out a shaking breath. “And let’s not even get started on my other ability that I could probably be using to save lives if I weren’t so damned terrified of what comes afterward.”
Wen felt Wesley’s fear like a live, coiling thing, twining around his chest and squeezing.
“You do plenty.”
“But I could do more.”
“No.” He pulled Wesley into an embrace. “I don’t want you to even think for a second that you’re not doing enough. Bloody hel, Wes, you’re in charge of training now, you’re working extra guard shifts, and you’re doing the side job for me, looking for a potential agitator. I’ve made you take on so much responsibility that now you’re barely get any sleep. Not to mention the daily assault on your empathic senses from all the crap going on around you. You do more than enough, and you’re damned good at it. There’s no one I trust more to handle the trainees, no one I trust more to have my back in a fight.”
“Yeah…great. Let’s talk about that, shall we? You think you can trust me in a fight. Until the first drop of blood is spilled and I go all weird-eyed and feral and start tearing apart maybe our own people.”
Wen held him away from him to look him squarely in the eye. “Stop. That’s not going to happen. You proved again today that you can control it.”
“Around one injured person. What happens if there are more? What happens when I can’t escape it like I did today by sending other people to handle the clean-up for me?”
“If it ever got to that point, I’d be right by your side, helping you, watching out for you. But it’s not going to happen, Wes.”
“Gods, I hope not,” Wesley said with a tired sigh, pushing his hood back and dragging a hand through his still-damp hair. “Sometimes I think if this is what being an ondaen means, I’d rather be an ordinary human with no special abilities at all. So I could just fade into a corner somewhere.” He pulled free from Wen and paced away from him several steps.
Wen followed after him, caught his arm, and stopped him. He waited until Wesley turned to face him on his own before he spoke again. “But you’re neither ordinary nor human, m’caire. And it’s not your fate to fade into a corner. You have too much to offer, and you genuinely care about people, care about this fight we’re in. Those aren’t the traits of someone who wants to fade into obscurity.”
Wesley pulled away again, but this time only to sink tiredly onto a large, fallen log next to them.
The hollowed-out log was where Wen always stashed his clothes and weapons. He began pulling them out and putting them on.
“Listen to me, love…” he said. “None of us can second guess why we’re here or what the world has planned for us. All we have control over is the life we’ve been given. It’s up to us to make of it what we can. And you’ve already shown, over and over, that you’re capable of great things.”
“I just wish I could do more to help all the people who’re hurting. Like Lord Rizik and Lord Hareldson. I can’t begin to fathom how hopeless and lost I’d feel if I’d been torn apart from you the way they have been from one another. And Jarrad and all he’s going through? I want to make him feel better, but I don’t know how. Then there are all the people who’re so scared of the sorcerer and his wrath and armies. And Jarrad’s lover, whoever it is, and their utter terror of some unknown something. Even someone like Lochlann. I don’t know what drives him, but he needs help. I feel all their pain, Rowen. I feel it here.”
He pressed a hand against his gut, and as he did, Wen felt a shadow of the pain within his own gut, leftover from what he’d seen and felt in Wesley’s memories only a short while ago.
“Yet I’m powerless to do anything to help them,” Wesley continued. “And I hate that feeling.”
“You’re not powerless. Every little thing you do helps.”
“How? How could little things make any difference when there’s so much wrong?”
Fully dressed now, Wen buckled the leather arm bracers Wesley had given him around his forearms, then picked up his sword and slid it down into the scabbard hanging from his belt. He stepped closer to Wesley and squeezed his shoulder.
“You helped Risa today by taking action to protect her and her little brother. You helped Jarrad by listening to him and giving him advice. One tiny stone dropped into a pond has ripples that go far beyond where the stone hit the water. And if you keep dropping in more stones in different places the ripples build on each other until they can touch even the farthest shore.”
Wesley dragged in a deep, shuddering breath and released it. “Do you think we’ll ever see a time where we don’t have to live in constant fear?”
“Yes. I do. I think the world is about balance. Byram has, without a doubt, had the scale tipped in his direction for far too long, but it’s only a matter of time before it tips back. It’s already begun to, given the alliance between draegans and humans that we see here every day. The world can’t survive out of balance forever. It wants to regain equilibrium. It fights for that to happen. You wonder what you can do, or if you’re doing enough, or if you should even be here in this fight? Well, I think the world put you here, with us, with me, because you’re needed here. We’re all placed where we’re needed.”
“What about someone like Lochlann? Did the world put him here, too, to hurt his sister, to spew his angry slurs?”
“For all we know, he was put here to show you that you can control your blood lust. To bring Jarrad’s fears and trauma out in the open so we could see them and help him before he’s lost to them. And maybe because Risa and her little brother are meant to stay here at Kellesborne with us because they have a greater purpose we don’t yet know.”
“And Byram? He was put here to slaughter all but a handful of the draegans and keep you prisoners in your own land for a hundred years? Or enslave and murder my parents?” Wesley finally looked up and met his gaze. “I’m sorry, but that’s just wrong.”
“Maybe the sorcerer is an anomaly. Something the world, or the gods, or whoever created all this, put here for some other purpose without knowing he was going to spread like a disease across the land. And the rest of us had to endure the hardships we have in order to be strong enough to fight him.”
“I think we’re going to have to agree to disagree on the concept of fate,” Wesley said. “I don’t like the idea of someone or something else putting me anywhere for a purpose of their choosing. I’ll make my own fate, damn it.”
He looked so determined sitting there, his dark brows drawn together, radiating indignation, that it sent a swell of love through Wen.
“And that, right there,” Wen said with a smile, “is exactly one of the reasons why I love you so much. Because even when you’re tired and frustrated and hurting, you never give up. You never back down. You fight for what you believe in.”
“I just refuse to accept that we’re nothing more than game pieces on a board for some…some divine or manipulative master to push around.”
“For what it’s worth, I’m not saying I believe everyone has a set fate, Wes. Remember, I started this conversation by saying the only thing we have control over is the life we’ve been given. We have control over it. We make our own choices and decisions. But that doesn’t mean the world can’t nudge us in the right direction from time to time, or place us where we’re needed most and hope we figure it out. The world wants balance, and I think it’s going to do whatever it can to encourage that to happen. Just like you and I balance each other when we need it. And, if we’re very lucky, maybe both the large and small acts we do here will eventually tip the balance in the war against the sorcerer. That’s all I’m saying.”
Wesley studied him for several long seconds. Then, unexpectedly, Wen felt the heavy weight within Wesley lift a bit. Not all all the way, but enough it was noticeable, as if he’d suddenly come to terms with something.
Even more unexpected, the faintest twitch of a smile tugged at his lips. “Rowen Daneson—warrior and philosopher,” he said softly.
Wen huffed out a soft laugh. “Philosopher? Hardly.”
“Just saying it the way I see it.”
“Yeah, I don’t think so. Now if you said lover then I’d probably have to agree with you.”
Wesley’s quiet snort and ensuing smile made Wen supremely grateful he stood close enough in the growing darkness that he could see it and savor it.
“Wasn’t it you, not so long ago, telling me I shouldn’t fish for compliments?” Wesley said, his tone light with humor. “And now, here you are, breaking your own rules.”
“I’m not fishing. I’m simply stating facts.”
“Uh huh. And you’re so modest, too.” But even as he said the words, Wesley rose and pulled him into a kiss, his hands cradling Wen’s face.
The moment their mouths joined, Wen felt a rush of love flowing from Wesley. He met it with his own. Gods, he did love this man. This beautiful, changeable, complicated man who completed him.
“What was that for?” he asked when Wesley finally stepped back.
“It was a thank you. For bringing me back into balance.”
“And are you? Back in balance?” Wen asked, turning serious again as he remembered, once more, how it had felt to experience Wesley’s memories and all the bludgeoning emotions.
“I’m definitely headed in that direction. Thanks to you.” Then his smile turned teasing. “Lover.”