Dark Magick Rising – Chapter 31

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

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

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CHAPTER 31

After Wesley had shut the door and they were several steps down the hall, out of earshot of Lochlann’s room, Wen stopped and turned to face him, his jaw and fists clenched tight. He took a breath, and Wesley knew he was attempting to calm himself before he spoke.

“I know we probably should have talked to him longer, asked him some questions once we got him speaking, but he is so fucking impossible,” Wen finally gritted out. “And I don’t trust him as far as I could throw him.” He dragged in and released another breath. “What was your read?”

“That he’s a mess,” Wesley said. “His emotions are all over the place—intense, uneven, with what feels like deeply ingrained fury beneath it all. It’s like…like trying to read one of those whirling windstorms that drop out of the sky and tear up everything in their path. There’s no way to predict where it’ll go or how bad the destruction’ll be, you only know you’d better take cover.”

“Wonderful.” Wen’s settled a restless hand on the hilt of his sword. “Bloody hel. Any idea what’s made him this way? He’s so angry even I can feel it pouring off him.”

“I can’t read his thoughts or memories, only his emotions in the here and now. But I do have a sense that all of this did not come solely from his parents being killed by Byram’s soldiers. There’s more than grief involved, more behind the chaos within him. I can’t quite get a grasp of what, but…something.” He shook his head, troubled by what he’d read in Lochlann. “I agree with you. I don’t think he’s trustworthy. I think he’s unpredictable. And that makes him potentially dangerous.”

“Did you get any sense he might be behind the incident with Jax? If the little brother were here in one of Lilia’s treatment rooms, and Lochlann was with him, he easily could have overheard Jax asking about Lord Hareldson and seen it as an opportunity to sow some discord.”

“I didn’t pick up anything obvious that would indicate that. When you brought up Lord Rizik, I watched and read him closely to see how he’d respond. Aside from a general disgust, and his ever-present fury, he didn’t react strongly like I would expect someone to if they had plotted to harm Lord Rizik. Frankly, I’m not sure Lochlann’s capable of any kind of organized thought, as turbulent as his emotions are. That said…I have to admit, because his emotions are such a tumultuous mess, he’s not easy to read.”

“So he could have been behind it?”

“Possibly. But Jax said it was a human woman. As far as we know, the only female Lochlann’s really spent time with here is Risa, and I don’t believe for a second she did it, or that she’d be part of any plot with her brother. Not to mention, she’s not human. It’s unlikely Jax would have made a mistake like that, given his own aversion to humans.”

Wen sighed. “True.” Then he frowned. “How’d he respond emotionally when you mentioned him hurting Risa?”

“I have to admit, his reaction to that was…unexpected.”

“Unexpected in what way?”

“In spite of all his intense anger, when I brought up him hurting Risa, what I sensed in him was remorse. I think he didn’t mean to hurt her. I got a sense that he lost control and felt ashamed about it later, and his snarly response to me was mainly defensive, to cover his shame.” He shook his head. “Maybe I’m naive, but I don’t think someone who’s inherently bad would feel sorry for something they’ve done. Which sort of backs up my gut feel about him not having a plot up his sleeve to harm Lord Rizik. I don’t get the sense that his harmful actions are premeditated. They’re more like he’s so emotionally compromised he’s acting out in the heat of the moment without thinking.”

“So you’re saying he’s a tightly-strung wreck, but not a conspirator in something bigger? That he’s fucked up, but he’s got a conscience?”

“Basically…yeah.” Wesley gave him an apologetic look. “Not what you were hoping for, was it?”

Wen dragged a hand over his golden-stubbled face. “I don’t know what I was hoping. I guess, yeah, it would make things easier if he were the one who goaded Jax into attacking Lord Rizik, because then I could deal with it and put this gnawing anxiety to rest. On the other hand, I’d rather find out no one did it intentionally and it was just a coincidence.”

“I know.”

“Can he be helped?” Wen asked.

“Lochlann?”

“Yeah. Because you’re right. As much as he pissed me off in there with his surly attitude and his hatred toward humans, the fact he felt guilty when you asked him about hurting his sister indicates he’s got at least a tiny bit of decency somewhere down inside him. So, I’m wondering…do you think he can be redeemed?”

Wesley drew in a breath and released it. “Maybe?” Then he shrugged. “I don’t know because we have no idea why he is the way he is, what created the demons within him, or how deep they’re dug in. I think maybe the real question is, does he even want to be redeemed? Because you can’t force help on anyone who isn’t willing and ready to accept it.”

Jarrad was point in fact of that, and Lochlann’s situation was much more volatile.

Wen sighed and leaned back against the stone wall. “If his emotional state is that unstable, and a sizable portion of it is based on grief, I don’t know that locking him up is the right long-term solution. It won’t teach him a lesson. It certainly won’t rehabilitate him. It might only make things worse for him, forcing him to live with his demons, as you call them, day after day, with no reprieve.”

“But if we let him go, I don’t think he can be trusted here at Kellesborne,” Wesley said. “He may have a conscience, but, again, he’s unpredictable. I think he lets his fury guide him, and while he might feel bad about it at a later date, in the heat of the moment all he cares about is giving in to that fury. Like putting it before his little brother’s health, or his sister’s well-being.”

“No, we can’t trust him enough to allow him to stay. Not stay and roam the castle freely, as he has been doing,” Wen said. “I won’t take the risk of having him harm anyone else here. Living at Kellesborne, surrounded by a mix of draegans and humans, would create a constantly festering wound in him, or exacerbate the one that’s already there. He does, for whatever reason, truly distrust humans. And unlike Jax, who’s always been less than thrilled with them, Jax was still able, most of the time, to be civil and live amongst them. I’m not sure, based on what we’ve seen, that Lochlann can do that right now.”

“Gods, I wish I could understand what else lies behind his anger. I can’t put my finger on what it is, and it’s making me crazy.”

Wen reached for his hand and squeezed his fingers, and Wesley felt a pulse of soothing magick wash over him. He was grateful for it since he was having trouble shaking off the dark chaos he’d felt from reading Lochlann.

“I’m furious with him for the things he’s done,” Wesley said. “But I have to admit, after sensing his turmoil, a part of me feels sympathy for him.”

“But that doesn’t mean his behavior should be excused.”

“No, of course not. I know that. But people don’t just wake up one day and they’re suddenly a roiling mass of hatred. Events happen to shape that.”

“We may never know his full story, especially if there’s more to it than his parents being killed. But in the meantime, we have to do something. I think we both agree letting him live freely here at the castle isn’t going to work any longer. And while we could lock him up, that doesn’t feel right either.”

“So what options do we have? Are we saying we just set him loose outside the castle grounds?” Wesley wasn’t sure how he felt about that. On one hand, it would get Lochlann away from here, and away from Risa and Neric. But was setting Lochlann loose on the rest of Velensperia a good idea? What if he took out his anger on…well…people in one of the human villages?

“It’s not ideal, but maybe being back out on his own, living away from humans, he’ll do better,” Wen said. “Aside from the little brother getting sick, Risa didn’t say anything about Lochlann creating problems while they were living in the forest, did she?”

“No. She implied he was difficult, in the sense he wouldn’t let them go anywhere near human towns, and he didn’t want to accept help from humans, not even to save his brother. But she didn’t indicate he was out of control or looking for revenge. And, while I worry he may have hurt Risa prior to yesterday, I don’t know that for sure even. His shame over it felt pretty damn real.”

“Well, he doesn’t want to be here anyway,” Wen said. “So if we can get him to go quietly, without stirring more trouble by insisting his sister and brother go with him, that’s probably the best solution. It’s not ideal, but under the circumstances…” Wen bit his lip in thought for a moment, and Wesley waited for him to continue.

When he didn’t right away, Wesley prodded, “What are you thinking?”

“I guess…” He shook is head. “I guess my main concern about letting him go,” Wen finally said, “is that, considering he’s not thrilled the draegans and humans are allies in this fight, he might work against us. Create dissension amongst the draegans who are still out there and not living at Kellesborne. That would play right into the high sorcerer’s hands. Byram would love to see us fighting against one another.”

“But do you think Lochlann would really do that since his sister and brother would still be living here? They’re his family, and…I can’t quite get past his reaction to hurting Risa. He didn’t like that he’d done it. Based on that, it’s hard for me to see him openly trying to incite other draegans to fight against us, not with Risa and Neric here.”

“Maybe.” Wen took a deep breath. “Actually, maybe we should talk to Risa. See what she thinks about all of this. She knows him better than anyone.”

“True. She’d have a better idea than we do if he would go quietly and stay out of trouble, or if he might cause problems somewhere else.”

“All right. Let’s do that. Let’s try to talk to her this morning, though, because the sooner we come to a decision, the happier I’ll be. I don’t like having this unresolved.”

“Okay. Where can Risa and I find you if we take a break mid-morning?”

“Here. I told Lochlann a member of the draeganjhere would be guarding his door at all times. That would be me.”

“Don’t you have things to do? Do you want me to stay?”

“No, love, it’s fine. You have training to get to. And the rest of the guards all have assignments today. Besides, if I can’t do my part by guarding a door every now and then, well, then I’m probably not worthy of being in charge of the draeganjhere, am I?” He smiled, and after all the tension, it melted Wesley’s heart.

“I don’t think there’s anyone who doubts your commitment to the draeganjhere.”

“Well, now they’ll have even less reason to. But, before you go… Jarrad? What did he say when you talked to him? You came back in the room sooner than I expected.”

Wesley let out a heavy sigh. “He’s just… Gods. He’s a mess, too. He didn’t want to talk to me. All he said was that he’d come up here to try to do the right thing, but then regretted it because Lochlann refused to listen. He said he didn’t know why he’d even bothered, and reiterated that he needed to be away from people. Said he wanted to be alone, and then he took off.”

“Damn it.” Worry for his brother reflected in Wen’s eyes and in his posture. “I had planned to talk to him this morning, but now…”

“I told him we all cared about him, and asked him to please not shut us out, but he wasn’t interested in listening.”

“For what it’s worth, I agree with you, Wes, that it’s not in his best interest to be off on his own. But he’s so damned stubborn, I don’t know how to convince him otherwise.”

“I think stubborn kind of runs in the Daneson family,” Wesley said.

That drew a smile from Wen. “You think?” Then he sighed again. “I guess there isn’t anything we can do for him right this second. One problem at a time.”

“I know. Lochlann first. But…actually, it just occurred to me that… Well…”

“What is it? Speak freely.”

“Are we being hypocritical? We both say it’s not good for Jarrad to be off on his own, alone, to deal with his problems. That he should be close to the people who care about him so we can help him. Yet our solution for Lochlann is to send him away to deal with his problems alone…”

“But it’s not the same. Lochlann has hurt people. You said yourself that he’s unpredictable, and that makes him dangerous.”

“Jarrad’s hurt people, too. Well, one person. Lochlann’s lying in that bed in there, broken and battered, because Jarrad lost it and beat him unconscious because he couldn’t escape the nightmares that haunt him. What if that’s exactly what’s happening with Lochlann, too? What if what happened to his parents was just too much for him emotionally and it broke him, is still breaking him, just like Jarrad’s trauma is still affecting him?”

“Damn. Now that you put it that way…”

“There’s no right answer here, is there?” Wesley murmured.

“Maybe we have to let Jarrad figure this out his own way, just like Lochlann has to.”

“But I don’t want Jarrad off alone, far away somewhere, suffering.”

“He’s my brother, Wes. I don’t either. It makes me sick inside to think of him struggling so much. But like you said before, you can’t force someone to accept help. And you’ve tried twice now to help Jarrad, yet he’s refused. So maybe we have to give him a chance to clear his head. Maybe pushing him is exactly the wrong thing to do.”

“But if you talked to him… Or if your mum did?”

Wen reached for him, brushing a thumb over Wesley’s bearded cheek, his expression grave. “I’ll try, okay? I promise. But if I can’t get him to talk to me, he’s certainly not going to talk to Mum. And if that happens, I don’t think we have any choice but to give him some space to work this out on his own. At least for now.”

“Gods, I hate this.” Wesley drew in a shaky breath and released it in a slow, gusty exhale. “Fine. But you will try to talk to him, won’t you?”

“I already promised I would.”

“I guess there’s nothing else we can do right now, then. I’ll speak to Risa as soon as I get to the courtyard and ask her to come talk to you—”

“To us.”

Wesley nodded. “To us, during break. Let’s just make sure she doesn’t have to see Lochlann at all. She was pretty clear about not wanting to do that.”

“I’ll make sure.”

“Okay. I’d better go. Al had to deal with training on his own for the better part of yesterday afternoon. I don’t want him to think I’ve abandoned him. Especially since he and I are it now.”

“He worships the ground you walk on. He won’t think twice if you’re a little late.”

“Don’t say things like that. He doesn’t worship me. That’s silly.”

Wen raised an eyebrow. “You really don’t see it? Trust me…he does. I’m pretty sure you’re his hero.”

“Oh gods, enough. I’m not feeling like anybody’s hero right now. Too much crap going on around us.”

“Hey.” Wen squeezed his hand, which he still held. “You okay?”

“No. I’m torn over this whole Lochlann thing. And I’m worried sick about Jarrad. But I’ll survive.”

“It’s going to be all right, m’caire.”

“I swear, if you start telling me again how the world makes things happen for a reason, or that there’s a purpose behind all this upheaval with Jarrad and Lochlann, I’m not going to be responsible for my actions.”

A smile curved Wen’s mouth. “I’m not going to tell you that. You’ve made your stance on fate crystal clear, and I respect it. All I meant this time was that in my heart I truly believe everything’s going to work out. Despite his current state, Jarrad has a good head on his shoulders. Even if he won’t let us directly help him right now, he knows we care. He knows he has our support when he’s ready. I think he’ll come to us if he really needs us.”

“You think so?”

“I do. I grew up with him, remember? He’s always had a hot head, he’s always been stubborn, and he’s never been one to willingly accept aide when it’s offered. He wants to sort out his problems by himself…a determined sense of pride or something. But he always does come around eventually if he feels he truly can’t handle something. It just has to be on his own terms.”

“I hope you’re right and this time isn’t the exception. He was so devastated by that nyctophan attack. If you’d seen and felt him talking to me about it yesterday…”

“I did see it, remember? At least a flash of it, in your thoughts and memories last night. And I hate that he’s still suffering. But I do truly believe he’ll make it through this. As for Lochlann, we can only do what we feel is best for the people here in the castle we’re sworn to protect. That’s our first responsibility. Beyond that, we can only try to balance that commitment with what’s best for him. He’s his own person and we can’t control him any more than we can Jarrad. If Lochlann wants to leave, we have no solid grounds to keep him here. He and Jarrad both lost control before and during that fight, so if we discipline one, we have to discipline the other. Or, we let them each go get their heads together in solitude.”

Wesley sighed. “You have the uncanny ability to make far too much sense when I just want to wallow a bit longer.”

“Um, okay. I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or something else. So I guess I’ll just say… thank you?” 

“It was a compliment. Damn you.”

Wen smiled again. He reeled Wesley in close enough to kiss him, and the brush of his lips against Wesley’s own was as sweet and tender as Wen’s smile.

“Think that’ll get you through the morning?”

“Probably not,” Wesley said. “I always want more. But I’ll do my best to make it last.”

“Me too. By the way, you were pretty magnificent in there with Lochlann. Fierce as hel. Remind me never to piss you off.”

A flush of pleasure shot through Wesley at the praise. “For the record, you have pissed me off before.”

“I know, and this reminded me why I don’t ever want to do it again. Although, it is kind of hot when you get all bossy like that.”

“Oh gods, shut up,” Wesley said, fighting back an embarrassed smile. “I’ll see you in a while?”

“I’ll be here.” Wen leaned in and gave him another quick peck. “Try to stay out of trouble?”

“I’ll do my damnedest. Let’s just hope everyone else around me behaves today.”

Click here to read Chapter 32!

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.

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