Dark Magick Rising (Draegan Lords Book 5) by M.L. Rhodes
Copyright 2019 by M.L. Rhodes, All Rights Reserved
The days and nights passed in a blur of work, little sleep, barely a moment to stop and breathe, and then more work.
But the first several days after Lord Rizik had been taken by Moh’dredion had been the hardest. Only a handful of people knew the real reason he’d left and where he’d gone, and that handful held their collective breath, hoping, Wen supposed, for a miracle. The miracle of seeing the draegan lords on the horizon, flying back to Kellesborne. Or even a portal opening somewhere and them coming back through it to this world.
It wasn’t meant to be, though. And now, two weeks had passed with no signs of any kind, which had significantly dimmed the prospect of miracles, if one believed in them in the first place.
The subject of the draegan lords came up in his and Wesley’s conversations daily, as they speculated where they were and what might have or might still be happening to them. Wen’s mum, on the other hand, avoided the topic completely. Wen suspected it was her way of coping with her fear. If they didn’t talk about it, then she didn’t have to consider the possibility Lord Rizik and Lord Hareldson might never return.
She kept everything at Kellesborne running smoothly and efficiently, and never let on to anyone that her position as interim leader was anything but temporary. However, Wen knew the thought had to be at the back of her mind that she might be in charge indefinitely. She was one of the strongest people he’d ever known, and so damned smart and practical. If it came to it, she’d do an amazing job leading their people for as long as necessary. But Wen didn’t ever want her to think she had to bear the burden alone. Which was why he made a point to do everything he could to lighten her load.
Their daily meetings in the library continued, with Wesley and Solanis now joining Wen, his mother, and Thomas. Eliessán had also sat in for a couple of days when she’d returned from scouting, but she’d quickly left again, saying she’d promised Lord Rizik she’d look into something for him. Whatever the something was, though, she hadn’t shared.
In addition to the missing draegan lords, there was also still no word from Jax. Yet another topic about which Wen’s mum refused to speak. The couple of times Jax had come up in conversation, she’d glowered and given a terse response before changing the subject.
Frankly, Wen couldn’t blame her. His own distrust of Jax clouded his feelings on the matter, too. Though at this point, after weeks away, and Byram’s soldiers crawling over the land like a plague, both Jax and Caleb could be dead for all they knew. Or, considering his lack of love for humans and the free rein he’d been given to deal with Caleb, Jax could have simply killed Caleb and taken off on his own and no one at Kellesborne would be any wiser.
Damn Jax, that selfish bastard, for not telling someone, anyone, where he was going.
Also frequently on Wen’s mind was the fact he’d had no contact from Phee since he and Lochlann had left.
Wen still harbored doubts about Lochlann, and worried he might stir trouble for the alliance at Kellesborne. But of late, each time he thought about Risa’s angry brother, he found himself less concerned about what the draegan was up to and more concerned about the young man following him.
His decision to send Phee on the follow-mission still weighed on Wen. After meeting Phee, his inner sixth sense had practically screamed at him that he shouldn’t go through with his plan. Yet he’d ignored it and done it anyway. And the longer Phee was gone, the more Wen couldn’t stop thinking he’d foolishly risked the young man’s life. Foolish because, after all, he had no actual proof Lochlann was a threat. What if he’d sent Phee out there for absolutely no good reason at all?
When he was being brutally honest with himself, Wen recognized the gut-knotting, second-guessing feeling he kept experiencing for what it was…guilt.
Startled out of his thoughts, he looked up from where he was supposed to have been working on next week’s schedule. He’d claimed the old draeganjhere commander’s office on the guard level, and currently sat at a table with pages of still-blank parchment spread in front of him. But Wesley, standing in the doorway, was a far better and much more welcome sight.
“You’re doing it again,” Wesley said, entering the room, his dark brows drawn together.
“Doing what?” Wen asked, probably a little too defensively, since he knew Wesley had no doubt picked up on his tangled emotions. He’d been so lost in thought he hadn’t heard, or even sensed, Wesley coming.
“Worrying. You worry all the time now and I hate seeing you like this.”
Wen let out a deep sigh. “It’s part of the job, I suppose.”
“But it shouldn’t be weighing on you day and night to the point you never give yourself a moment’s peace.”
“I’m at peace when I’m with you.”
Wesley moved over to the desk and sat on the corner of it. He shook his head, and Wen felt his concern. “No. You’re not. You like to pretend you are, but you’re not, and I can almost always tell what’s really on your mind.”
“You’re supposed to be able to read emotions, not thoughts?”
“Well, lately, your emotions are a pretty clear indicator of your thoughts. For example, when I came in, you were thinking about Phee again, weren’t you?”
“Damn,” Wen muttered under his breath, wincing. Wesley could see right through him. “How could you tell that?”
“Because you’ve been battering yourself with guilt, and I can feel it. You make decisions all day long that directly impact people’s safety and wellbeing. Why, weeks later, is this one haunting you so much?”
“You know why.” Wen scuffed a hand over his face. “I went to him—”
“At Lord Rizik’s suggestion.”
“Yes, but it was still my call to let Phee go. And the fact I waited until several days later to even tell you about it is a pretty damn good indicator I knew it was a bad choice. I knew you wouldn’t like it and you would have disagreed, so I conveniently didn’t mention it, which of course only made everything worse.”
Not only had Wesley been hurt that Wen had intentionally avoided telling him, he’d been even less happy that Wen’d been apprehensive about sending Phee yet had done so anyway. Wesley’s kind heart had rebelled at the idea. They hadn’t had an argument over it exactly, but Wesley’s concern had definitely fed Wen’s growing self-reproach, which in turn had made Wen more defensive about it than he should have been.
Wesley rested a hand on Wen’s arm. “I know my initial reaction when you told me about it wasn’t the most supportive, and I’m sorry for that. Truly. It wasn’t my decision to make, so I had no right to pass judgment.”
“You had every right,” Wen told him. “It was a bad call on my part, and the only reason I didn’t like hearing you say it was because it confirmed what I already knew. I didn’t want to admit to you that I’d screwed up.”
“You didn’t screw up. And I backed down when you told me Phee wanted to do the job. That makes all the difference. Just like the draeganjhere and trainees choose their path, so did he. It’s not up to us to decide who can and can’t make their own choices.”
“We’re at war, Wes. And now, as captain of the guard, whether I like it or not, eventually I’m going to be responsible for sending some of our people to their deaths. As much as that thought torments me, I’ve been doing my damnedest to come to terms with the responsibility by reminding myself the members of the draeganjhere knew the risks when they signed on for the job. But the situation with Phee is something else altogether.”
“It’s really not.”
“Yes, it is. The guards know the risks of the path they’re taking. They’re trained to fight. Phee, on the other hand…” Wen shook is head. “If you’d seen him. He was so vulnerable. He said he didn’t know how to use any weapons, and almost fainted when I gave him my vrieg so he’d have something. How in hel I justified letting him go, I’ll never understand. It’s like I put an innocent kid out there for Byram’s soldiers to pick apart.”
“Okay, first of all, he’s not a kid. I only ever met Phee once, the night Al and I got back with Caleb. I confess I don’t remember him that well because it was dark, in the middle of a blizzard, and my thoughts were focused on finding you. But I do remember that as slight as he appeared, he wasn’t a child. He has to be at least Al’s or my age. And second, you said you gave him multiple opportunities to turn you down and he didn’t. You didn’t make him go, Rowen; he chose to. Which is why you have to stop beating yourself up over it.”
“If only it were that simple.”
“It is that simple. Decisions have to be made and we can only do what feels right at the time—you told me that yourself. You made the best decision you could under the circumstances.”
“I hate when my own words come back to bite me,” Wen grumbled.
He saw Wesley trying to hide a smile. “Don’t we all.” But Wesley quickly sobered. “What’s done is done. Worrying about it isn’t going to change anything, and Phee may very well be more capable than you’re giving him credit for. You told me yourself he said he wanted to make a difference. You gave him a chance to try, so have a little faith in him.”
Wen dragged a hand over his face again, then groaned. “Fine. Ugh. I’ll do my best.”
“Good.” Wesley squeezed his arm. “Because right now, you need to turn your focus elsewhere. That’s why I came to get you in the first place. You’ve got somewhere important to be, in case you’ve forgotten.”
“Of course I haven’t forgotten.” Wen drew in and released a breath as he straightened his shoulders. “Is everyone there?”
“Mm-hmm. And damned curious why they’ve all been called together.”
That finally brought a smile to Wen’s face. “I’m sure they are. Let’s just pray they’re agreeable when they discover the reason.”
“Oh, I think they will be,” Wesley said, smiling for real now.
“Gods, I hope so.”
“Come on.” Wesley stood and held out his hand. “Let’s go to work, Captain. You’ve got an audience waiting for you.”
Wen rose and took his hand, then used it to pull him into a quick kiss. “You’ll let me know if anything feels off?”
“Of course I will. But it’s going to be fine.”
“I guess we’ll find out soon enough.” Because, for better or worse, he was about to upend a thousand years of draegan history.