Dark Magick Rising (Draegan Lords Book 5) by M.L. Rhodes
Copyright 2019 by M.L. Rhodes, All Rights Reserved
It had been three days since Lochlann had been escorted away from Kellesborne. Four since Jarrad had left. And though Wesley’s heart was still troubled over both, life at Kellesborne had gone on. Work had to be done. Training held. Guard shifts filled.
This afternoon, Wesley was still at training, though the trainees were taking a quick break to warm up by the bonfire in the center of the yard, while Wesley stood off to one side, already thinking through the next drill and deciding who he’d pair up with whom.
The warm weight of a hand came to rest on his neck, but it didn’t startle him. Instead, he smiled and leaned back into it. He’d felt Wen approaching.
“Hi, love,” came Wen’s low voice against his ear.
“Hi yourself. What’s up?” Wesley turned to face him and was struck by just how damned lucky he was to love and be loved by this draegan. Wen looked ruggedly beautiful this afternoon in the pale winter sunlight, with several days’ worth of beard growth and his windblown, half-braided hair catching the sun’s rays in a golden glow. Wesley would never, ever grow tired of looking at him.
Apparently unconcerned that they were surrounded by dozens of trainees, Wen leaned in and kissed him, causing Wesley to sigh in appreciation.
“Okay, now I really want to know what’s up, with you kissing me while I’m at work,” Wesley said.
“Can’t I just come say hello when I miss you?” Wen said, his voice soft and his gaze warm.
“Of course you can. Always.”
His smile was so damned loving, as was the light brush of his fingertips against Wesley’s lips, that it almost made Wesley forget how troubled Wen was.
Almost. But not really. Because in spite of his attempt to keep things light, he knew Wen was unsettled. He’d been experiencing it through his and Wen’s link all day. Something was definitely brewing because Wen had been closeted with Lord Rizik and the rest of the advisors in the library tower since early this morning, which was not a typical thing. And whatever was going on, it had Wen off balance enough for him to seek out Wesley and the comfort of their physical connection in the middle of the day.
He pressed a kiss against Wen’s fingers because he couldn’t resist, then said, keeping his voice low so they wouldn’t be overheard, “What’s troubling you?”
Wen’s expression instantly turned apologetic, with lines creasing his forehead. “You’ve been feeling it?”
“All day. I’m not going to ask if everything’s okay because obviously it isn’t. All I need to know right now is, are you okay?”
“I will be. I’m already feeling better just being here with you.”
Wesley understood that, because when he was unsettled, being near Wen, touching him, talking to him, always helped calm him, too.
“I realize this isn’t the best time and place,” Wesley said, “but do you want to talk about it?”
“I do. Very much,” Wen responded. “But you’re right, this isn’t the time or place. Which is why I thought maybe, for a change, we can make a point of eating dinner together tonight?”
Their schedules the past few days had been such that they’d seldom been at the castle at the same time to share an evening meal. Wen had been flying out with Lord Rizik at nightfall, or occasionally earlier, and it felt as if Wesley’s responsibilities had kept him tied up until Wen was already gone. It had been days since Wen had taken him flying and they’d visited the new hot spring, and that was the last time they’d spent any quality time together outside of bed. And there, they’d both been on such crazy schedules, they’d done little more the past few nights than share a few kisses before they’d fallen into exhausted sleep. So, the thought of having Wen to himself for a while this evening, while they were both still awake enough to appreciate it, was an unexpected gift.
“Yes. I would love that. In fact, I’ll make a point of wrapping up training early today, since I assume you’ll need to fly with Lord Rizik once it’s dark?”
“I will. So that’s perfect. How about I bring the food and meet you in our rooms when you’re done here?”
“I’ll be there.”
They shared a smile and another brief kiss, then Wen was gone as quickly as he’d appeared.
* * *
As he’d promised, Wesley ended training earlier than usual, and he was pretty sure his trainees were as pleased as he to have some free time. After they’d gotten all the weapons put away, Al left with Risa, the two of them walking close to one another but not quite touching, in spite of the fact Wesley could feel their shared attraction. He wondered when Al was going to work up the nerve to at least hold the girl’s hand. Or when Risa would take charge and hold his.
Meanwhile, he was experiencing a warm churning in his own stomach at the knowledge he was going to meet Wen. Part of it, he knew, was concern over whatever had happened today behind the library’s closed doors. But mostly it was excitement to have the man he loved all to himself for a couple of hours.
He knew before he even opened the large, carved green door of their quarters that Wen was already there, which caused another pleasant rush of heat through him.
When he entered, Wen looked up at him from where he’d been setting a trencher of food on the table and smiled.
“Have you been here long?” Wesley asked as he took off his cloak and hung it on one of the silver hooks by the door, alongside Wen’s.
“I actually just got here, so it was good timing.”
When Wesley turned back to face the room, Wen had closed the distance between them. He pulled Wesley into a kiss, and this one wasn’t brief or chaste, as the ones in the training courtyard had been. On the contrary…this kiss had Wesley moaning against Wen’s warm mouth, and his hands sliding up Wen’s back and neck to bury in the long locks of his hair while he met Wen’s hunger with his own.
“That’s better,” Wen murmured when they were satisfied enough to come up for a breath.
“When you said you wanted us to eat dinner together, you didn’t say we were going to have dessert first,” Wesley teased.
Wen held Wesley’s face between his warm, callused palms and said, in all seriousness, “You will never be an afterthought to anything, like dessert is to a meal, m’caire. You are, and always will be, the main course. I can live without dessert. But you’re what sustains me, and I’ll never be able to live without you.”
The words and the intensity of Wen’s gaze, not to mention the thrum of emotion along their link, stole the breath from Wesley’s lungs.
“Sometimes you say things that leave me speechless,” Wesley murmured, having trouble getting the words past the lump in his throat.
“Then kiss me again. You don’t need words for that.”
So Wesley did, with all the built-up love he felt for this draegan who never failed to touch his heart.
At some point later, as they lay thoroughly sated in bed, Wesley rose up on his elbow and brushed the hair back off Wen’s face, loving how Wen’s eyes captured the firelight, giving them glints of gold amongst the deep green. How the faint dusting of freckles across his cheeks blended with his gold facial scruff. And how his full, sensual lips slid into an easy smile when Wesley smiled at him.
“So,” Wesley said, keeping his tone gentle, “are you going to tell me what’s been on your mind all day?”
Wen stroked Wesley’s face with his fingertips. “You read me so well, I’m half surprised you haven’t figured it out already.”
“I know that you were locked up in the library tower the majority of the day with Lord Rizik, your mother, and Iann, and that all of you were on edge. And I know your worry began during your morning meeting. What is it, Rowen?”
Wen sighed. “Lord Rizik is leaving.”
“To go after Lord Hareldson?”
Wen nodded. “We’ve all known it was coming, and I can’t blame him. If I were in his position and you were the one trapped in Moh’dredion’s world being endlessly tormented, I don’t think I would have been able to wait this long, no matter what other obligations I had. How Lord Rizik’s been patient enough to be sure everything here at Kellesborne is as secure as possible before he leaves, I don’t know. But he’s sick with worry because time passes differently in Ballian, and who knows what might have happened to Lord Hareldson since he last saw him.”
“When’s he going?”
The news brought an unexpected tightness to Wesley’s gut. Wen had told him days ago that Lord Rizik was going to go after his mate sometime soon, but Wesley hadn’t expected to take the news quite this hard when it finally happened. Or maybe…maybe what he was feeling was partially Wen’s reaction as well. Though it didn’t matter. The bottom line was that knowing Lord Rizik was planning to leave at some point in the future, and being faced with the reality he was actually leaving in a few hours were two different things.
“I can’t believe he’s going to be gone now, too,” he said aloud to Wen. “It seems like just the blink of an eye since they were both there by the Zeklessian, with Lord Hareldson flying overhead, breathing fire, and Lord Rizik waiting for him on the ground. And the night they came through the woods when you and I were training, remember? They shared our fire for a while, before Lord Hareldson shifted and they flew off into the darkness.”
“That was the first night you and I were together,” Wen said softly.
“I remember.” Wesley smiled and pressed a tender kiss against Wen’s lips. But he sobered again as more melancholy memories played out in his head. “It just doesn’t seem possible that they were so in love and so connected, and then they were torn apart and Lord Hareldson was gone. And now, they’ll both be gone. I don’t have much contact with Lord Rizik like you do, but just knowing he’s not around will be disconcerting.”
“For all of us. And it’s going to be even more so come tomorrow because Iann’s leaving as well, to go try to convince the Taladarians to become our allies.”
“Taladaria. That’s a long damn trip, especially in the dead of winter, and made even worse by the fact the sorcerer’s troops are everywhere.”
Wen nodded. “He’s going to be taking a couple members of the draeganjhere with him for protection, but…”
“But that doesn’t change the fact it’ll still be dangerous. Or…” Wesley shook his head and winced. “Or that the already spread-thin draeganjhere will be even thinner. Gods, no wonder you’ve been stressed all day.”
Wen gave a hollow half laugh. “It gets even better. Lord Rizik is also sending out a handful of envoys to other realms to get a feel for whether any of them might be willing to join us as well. Some of the envoys are civilians who’re experienced with diplomacy or familiar with those particular lands, which means they’ll need guards as well.”
“Oh…fucking hel,” Wesley whispered.
“Yeah. Things are going to be very interesting around here, but Lord Rizik is right, we need allies. And our envoys need protection. So I’ve got to find a way to make our security around Kellesborne work with those who’re left.”
“I’ll help however I can. Whatever you need me to do.”
Wen smiled and brushed his thumb over Wesley’s lower lip. “I know you will, and I’ll definitely be asking. But the first thing I have to do is get Lord Rizik back to the old camp in the forest tonight.”
“The old camp? Why there?”
“We don’t know how to open a portal to the shadow world, so Lord Rizik’s going to try to lure Moh’dredion to him using magick and get him to open the portal. The hope is that he’ll take Lord Rizik like he did Hareldson, and then, once he’s in the other world, Lord Rizik’ll try to wake Hareldson from the dream state and hope they can escape. And he’s going to the old camp to do it because it’s nowhere near Kellesborne, for the safety of everyone living here. Plus, that’s also where Moh’dredion came through last time. I think Lord Rizik’s hoping being in the same location will make it easier for Death to find him.”
Wesley winced again. “I hate that name…Death.”
“According to Thomas, that’s what Moh’dredion means in the common tongue.”
“I don’t care. It’s too dark and final. And I don’t want to think about things being final where the draegan lords are concerned.”
“Neither do any of us, love. Trust me.”
Wesley sighed. “I know. I guess the news Lord Rizik is leaving hit me harder than I expected. I want him to go after Lord Hareldson, of course, and bring him home because, my gods, he’s been in so much pain missing him—I’ve sensed it every day—and I can only imagine it’s been even worse for Lord Hareldson. But the idea of him being gone from Kellesborne is…” He wasn’t sure what word he was looking for. Wrong kept coming to mind.
“Unsettling as hel?” Wen supplied.
“That, and also terrifying because what if he, if they, don’t make it back?”
“For what it’s worth, you’re not thinking or feeling anything that I, or I’m sure any of the others, haven’t done as well. We all hope the rescue will go perfectly, and sometime in the next few days we’ll have both the draegan lords back, safe and sound. But the reality is that no one knows what’s going to happen, not even Lord Rizik. There are so many variables, so many potential outcomes. Which means we have to be prepared for anything, including the possibility one or both of them won’t return. Why do you think we stayed locked up in the library all day?”
“And if neither of them does return?”
“Then we keep fighting. We don’t have a choice. Byram’s not going to stop, whether the lords are here or not. It’s up to us to bring him down. Nothing changes.”
“And, yet, everything changes.”
“It does,” Wen conceded. “Lord Rizik is leaving my mum in charge. With both the lords gone, Iann gone…”
“That makes you second in command, doesn’t it?” Wesley said.
Wen blanched a shade paler. “Gods. I hadn’t really thought about it that way, but…yeah, I suppose it does in a sense. Solanis will continue to run the guard camp, plus he’ll take over handling the scouts, which has been part of Iann’s job. Eliessán has always done her own thing unless she’s on a mission for the draegan lord. Jax is who the hel knows where. I’ll be heading up the draeganjhere as I have been, but other than that, there just aren’t many senior people left.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to rattle you.”
“It’s all right. I have a feeling I’d better get used to it because I suspect we’re all going to be rattled more than once over the next days and possibly weeks.”
He left unspoken what Wesley knew they were both thinking, which was that if things didn’t go well for Lords Hareldson and Rizik, it might be more than weeks.
“Once Lord Rizik gets to Lord Hareldson, how will they get back here? If they have to pass through a portal of some sort and Moh’dredion is the only one who can open it, then…?”
“That’s one of the big, unanswered questions. Lord Rizik doesn’t know how they’ll get out. His main concern is reaching Lord Hareldson and waking him before Moh’dredion kills him in the dream state. But once he wakes him…the path to escape is anyone’s guess. We’re not even sure exactly where Ballian is. We know it’s underground, but under what? Eliessán said the passage between worlds that the elves closed millennia ago was near the G’aereth Peladon. But that doesn’t mean Ballian is there. That might just have been where the entrance to the portal was located.”
“So what, exactly, is Lord Rizik’s plan?”
Wen sat up, cross-legged, in the bed. “Wake Lord Hareldson, then find their way out of Moh’dredion’s underground lair. If they can get to the surface, he thinks they’ll have a better chance of finding a way back here, regardless of where they come out. But from what Hareldson told him about Ballian, gods only know how they’ll do it. It’s deep underground caverns, there are flowing rivers but with fire burning atop them—it sounds like literal hel to me. How would anyone find a way out of that without a portal? Which, you’re right, Moh’dredion’s not exactly going to open for them for the return trip.”
He rubbed his eyes and let out a huff of breath. “Every time I think about it—them being trapped down there with no way out—it makes me ill. And that’s if everything else even goes according to plan. If Moh’dredion actually comes when Lord Rizik lures him and doesn’t kill Lord Rizik on the spot. If he takes Lord Rizik with him, and if, when he puts him to sleep, Lord Rizik is able to use the potion Eliessán and Lilia made to wake him up. And then if he can actually find Lord Hareldson and wake him.”
Wen dragged his hands through his hair. “There are just so many things that can go wrong, and I hate the not knowing. I hate it, so damned much! It’s my job to protect them, but I’ll be completely useless to help while they’re gods know where, trapped and in danger.”
Wen’s pain and frustration surged over Wesley like a hot, writhing mess, making his own heart race and his own anxiety escalate. It took several deep breaths to get it under control. He sat up and pulled Rowen into his arms, trying to surround him with love, hoping it would help. “It’s okay,” he murmured.
Wen hugged him tightly, his breathing ragged, while Wesley stroked his back and concentrated on keeping his own emotions steady and focused on love and tranquility.
Slowly, slowly, Wen’s breathing grew more even and his pain began to ebb, like waves on a lake growing calmer after a storm. The tension in his body eased as well.
Eventually, he pressed a warm kiss against Wesley’s neck before leaning back enough to look at him. A hint of a smile curved his lips and his eyes, those beautiful green eyes, were filled with love. “Thank you. You were doing soothing magick on me.”
Wesley shook his head. “No magick. I just figured since we share emotion, if I kept mine calm and peaceful, you’d pick up on that and it might help ease your pain.”
“It did. But there was a bit more to it than that, m’caire.”
He was still smiling, even though Wesley could feel his earlier fears and frustration still bubbling below the surface, though they were at least manageable now.
“No, I swear.”
“This wasn’t the first time you’ve used soothing magick with me. Remember the night I was stabbed? You may not have realized what it was back then either, but you definitely used it in very much the same way, to calm me and help me get past my pain so I could make it up the slope to the hot springs.”
“But that wasn’t magick either.”
“Trust me, it was. I could feel it swirling around me, through me, like warm honey.”
Wesley stared at him in confusion. “That…that is sort of what it feels like when you use it on me. But how could I do it? That’s draegan magick?”
“If you want to use that argument, how can I read and feel your emotions?” Wen countered. “That’s ondaen magick, isn’t it?” He smiled. “It shouldn’t surprise you that we can share magick with one another.
“It’s just… I don’t know how I could do something and not realize it.”
Wen tucked a fallen lock of Wesley’s hair back behind his ear. “Magick flows from you so naturally, I think a lot of the time you probably don’t realize it.”
“It doesn’t feel natural. It feels like I have to work hard at it, which is why I don’t know how I could do it and not know.”
“It probably seems hard for you right now, because you’re new to it, and when you’re consciously trying to use it you have to focus and concentrate. But the truth is, your magick’s growing stronger every day, Wes, and as you become more comfortable with it, you’ll realize it’s like breathing. To be honest, you’re so magickally empowered, I’ve been a little surprised none of the other draegans have noticed it, but—”
“What?” Wesley gasped, his heart suddenly pounding at the thought of anyone finding out he had magick ability, because that would lead to…
“It’s okay, it’s all right” Wen said, quickly wrapping his fingers through Wesley’s and gently squeezing. “Let me finish my thought. What I was trying to say is that at first I was surprised no one else had noticed, until I realized why I could tell and they couldn’t. No one else has an intimate connection with you like I do. I can feel and see your magick because you and I are bound together physically and emotionally. But not even my brothers or my mum have said anything about it to me, which only confirms I’m the only one who can tell. Because if they had noticed, trust me, one of them would have said so. Your secret’s safe.”
“You scared me there for a moment.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to. I’m actually kind of in awe at just how powerful you are. Your magick far surpasses mine, and—”
“No, it doesn’t. That’s crazy.”
Wen’s expression grew serious. “Yes, Wesley, it does. From the moment you used it to save my life, I’ve known as much. And everything that’s happened since then has only proven it. Not only are you a strong empath, which alone is a substantial gift, you can also manipulate and control water—”
“I only ever did it the one time.” He’d tried a few times since then, when he was in the bathing pool, but had no clue how he’d done it the first time, and had never been able to make it happen again.
“But you did do it. I told you—elemental magick is extremely difficult to manage. And even more incredible is the healing potency of your blood. And that’s just what we know right now. I wouldn’t be surprised, as time passes, if you discover even more facets to the amazing, natural gift you have. I’ve suspected for a while now that your magick is nearly, if not equally, as powerful as draegan-lord magick.
“Wh—at?” Wesley whispered, staring at Wen as shock rippled through him. Not Wen’s shock. His own.
“I don’t even know how you can make that comparison when the draegan lords don’t turn into vicious blood-craving creatures to pay for their magick like I apparently have to do.”
“We talked about this. There are always repercussions for using big, complex magick, no matter who’s doing it. Granted, yours seems to take on a unique form, but that doesn’t mean anyone, including the draegan lords, wouldn’t also have to pay a price for such a thing. But this conversation does remind me of something…”
He rose from the bed, and Wesley watched, curious, as Wen moved over to the table where he’d put the food. He picked up a couple of large, thick books Wesley hadn’t noticed earlier. When he returned to the bed, he set them on the covers in front of Wesley. “I know you tried and weren’t able to get anything from the library and that Thomas was going to find some books for you.”
“And these are the ones?” he asked, breathlessly. He hadn’t had a chance to go by and look at the books Thomas had promised to bring down from the tower for him. “He’s going to have a fit when he finds out you took them out of the library.”
Wen smiled. “No, these aren’t the ones he pulled down for you. I could tell at a glance they weren’t going to have the kind of information you wanted. One of them was the equivalent of a children’s picture book of magick creatures and the other was solely about draegans. So, when he was otherwise occupied out of the library this afternoon and I had a few spare minutes, I found these for you instead. I don’t know how much, if any, information about the ondaen is in them, but it seemed like a better place to start than the books Thomas had found. I’m sure there are probably others as well that might be helpful, but I had to take what I could get without rousing Thomas’s suspicions. I swear he treats the books in the library as if they were his own private collection instead of thousands of years’ worth of draegan heritage.”
“He’s always been fussy about books,” Wesley said absently, as he stared at the two leather-bound volumes Wen had brought him.
Complete Compendium of Velensperian Lifeforms had been stamped in gold script letters on the cover of one, and Maxilumion’s Legendary Beings—Truth or Fantasie? was the more sedately printed title on the other. Wesley’s ran his fingers over the grainy leather in appreciation.
“Thank you,” he murmured, looking up at Wen, more than a little touched that in spite of Wen’s anxiety and how busy he’d been all day he had taken the time to find these for Wesley.
Wesley also experienced a significant twinge of guilt that he’d been complaining yet again about his blood lust, and arguing about his magick abilities, when, right now, with war upon them, Lord Rizik’s dangerous attempt to rescue Lord Hareldson happening tonight, and the pressure building on Wen to protect Kellesborne, Wesley’s personal problems were minuscule in comparison.
But Wen didn’t seem to mind, and his smile in response was genuine, as were his emotions when he brushed a thumb over Wesley’s cheek. “You’re welcome. I wish it were more, but I’ll keep checking whenever I get a chance and can find a moment when Thomas is not lording it over the books.”
“You have so many more important things to deal with these days,” Wesley said, “I don’t want you to worry about me anymore. I’m sorry I’ve been so irritable and childish about my issue. I keep bringing it up and complaining, and that’s got to be getting tiresome. Even I’m tired of it.” He sighed.
Wen sank to his knees on the rug in front of him and took his hands. “It’s not tiresome. I know how much this weighs on you, and I understand your fear of not being able to control yourself. I’d give anything to have all the answers for you, m’caire. Anything. But short of going to Iann, who might know more, I feel helpless about how to ease your mind.”
“That’s just it. I don’t want you to worry anymore about easing my mind. You’ve got enough responsibility on your shoulders right now. This is something I’ve got to sort out on my own. And I will. And I’m going to start by shutting the hel up about it and gratefully accepting the gift of the books you’ve brought me to try to find some answers.”
Wen cradled his face between his hands and gazed at him. “My Wes. Your strength and determination are only two of the many, many reasons I love you so much.”
The warmth of embarrassment slid up Wesley’s face, even as another pleasurable warmth filled his chest and belly. For the second time tonight, Wen’s words left him at a loss for how to respond. But he didn’t have to worry about it for long when Wen leaned in and pressed a lingering kiss to his lips that stole all thought.
“Maybe we should eat some food now, while we still have time,” Wen said with a smile, leaning back.
Wesley took the hand Wen offered and let him pull him off the bed and to his feet. They crossed over to sit at the table, neither bothering with clothes as their rooms were quite warm this evening thanks to the ever-burning fire. They’d have to get dressed and return to the world soon enough.
“While we eat, can you tell me more of what you know about Ballian?” Wesley said. “Because I may have an idea—a crazy one, but an idea nonetheless—of how the draegan lords might be able to get out of Moh’dredion’s caves.”