Dark Magick Rising (Draegan Lords Book 5) by M.L. Rhodes
Copyright 2019 by M.L. Rhodes, All Rights Reserved
A week later, well after midnight, Wesley had already let the two new guards he’d worked with tonight go to their beds. But he’d stuck around a few minutes longer because Hadlow, who was taking the next shift, had had a couple of questions about something they’d covered in training earlier in the day.
Hadlow had proven to be a quick study and a reliable, level-headed guard, so he’d been working shifts on his own recently. One of the things Wesley appreciated about him was that if he was uncertain about anything, he asked for instructions or clarification. And Wesley would a thousand times rather answer questions than have to deal with cocky fledglings who thought they knew everything. He’d had a couple of those recently and he’d taken no pleasure in having to remind them they were assigned to a senior guard during their shifts exactly because they didn’t know everything.
He’d thought Al’s head was going to explode a couple of nights ago while dealing with one of them, enough so he’d come to Wesley for help. Wesley’d had to step in to remind the newbie he was there to learn. He was little more than a kid, and Wesley had been able to tell from reading him that he didn’t mean any harm. He was just overeager and, quite possibly, showing off to get the attention of the other newbie he’d been assigned with that night. Still, having to intervene and embarrass him by reining him in wasn’t Wesley’s favorite thing to have to do. So he’d much rather answer questions any day.
“Thank you again, Lieutenant. I didn’t mean to keep you. I’m sure you’d like to get some sleep.”
“It’s fine, Hadlow. And I’m not headed straight to bed anyway. I’m going to go take a pass atop the wall first.”
“I didn’t know we even had any guard positions up there.”
“We don’t. Not officially anyway. Once we have more watchmen ready to take shifts on their own and not have to always be with senior people, we’ll be able to staff the wall. Until then, I check it periodically for my own peace of mind.”
“Can you see much from up there?”
“As a non-draegan, at night? Not a lot, no, unless the moons are full or nearly so. There are a few dark spots inside the battlement, though, where someone could hide if they got that far. Which I don’t expect to happen, but nonetheless.”
“Better to be safe.”
“Exactly. I’d rather be cautious than take risks, especially tonight, given how close that detachment of Byram’s soldiers has been around the base of the mountain all day. If any of them happened to cross the magick barrier and hiked up this high, I’d rather not have any surprises.”
“Now that you’ve mentioned the magick barrier, I’ve actually been wondering something, Lieutenant.”
“Admittedly, I don’t know much about such things, and don’t fully understand how they work, but…would it be possible for the sorcerer to somehow overcome the magick of the barrier and find Kellesborne?”
The question was one Wesley had pondered himself and asked Wen about weeks ago. He wished he could say Wen’s response had reassured him, but it hadn’t.
“We don’t know for sure,” he told Hadlow honestly. “The draegan lords of old created the barrier around the base of the mountain, and while it should be basically invincible to any but a draegan lord’s magick, the sorcerer has grown powerful through his dark alliances. Which means it’s a possibility we can’t rule out. That’s part of why Captain Daneson keeps the perimeter of the castle itself so well guarded and heavily patrolled in spite of the fact we’re well within the barrier.”
“I never lived at the camp in the forest, but from what I’ve heard, the magick that protected it was different from what’s used here. They say the camp was invisible and no one could get through that barrier. Is there a reason the same type of barrier isn’t used here?”
“As I understand it, because of how the castle is built into the side of the mountain, there’s no way to put a full shield around it without putting one completely around the mountain. Since we’re talking about a vast distance, not just in circumference, but to make it high enough as well, not to mention the rugged terrain, it would be virtually impossible to use the same type of shield. So, the draegan lords instead used a different kind of magick to protect the mountain. One that makes non-draegans, when they pass through the barrier to this side, lose their sense of direction inside it. That’s why we tell everyone that if they do go beyond the wall, they need to stay within sight of the castle.
“Wander out of sight of it and we’d be lost,” he told Hadlow seriously. “And once a non-draegan goes back outside the barrier itself, we’d have no memory of what we’d seen on this side.”
“Meaning that not only could we not find our way back, we wouldn’t even remember the castle existed?”
“Exactly. That’s why Kellesborne is little more than a legend to humans—because even if one had happened upon it in the past, they wouldn’t have remembered it. Which is why, for practical reasons, humans who work down at the guard camp now or who go out on scouting missions carry an aelric with them. It counteracts the magick, so they can get back to the castle.”
“Since I first arrived here with my daughter and granddaughter, I haven’t left the castle grounds, except to be directly outside the wall on duty, like tonight, so I don’t have any experience with aelrics. But, hypothetically,” Hadlow said in a thoughtful tone, “couldn’t the sorcerer steal or find one and use it to reach us?”
For the first time ever, a flicker of uncertainty about Hadlow crept through Wesley. Maybe it was the direction Hadlow’s questions were taking and the fact they were focusing in tighter and tighter on how the sorcerer could get past Kellesborne’s magick. Or maybe it was the way Hadlow was asking, with a tone that sounded merely curious but could easily be used as a way to conceal the fact he was trying to piece together a method that would work.
Or maybe, he chided himself, Wen’s worries about spies and factions in league against Lord Rizik were rubbing off on him and making him paranoid, and this was nothing more than the logical questioning of a concerned guard.
When he probed a little deeper into Hadlow’s emotions he didn’t get a sense that Hadlow was anything more than genuinely curious and a bit worried, if not even a little fearful, that the safety of Kellesborne could be breached by the sorcerer.
Wesley let out a slow breath of relief. But nonetheless, he couldn’t quite push away that moment of clouded concern he’d experienced.
“It would be impossible,” he said, choosing his words carefully, not wanting to leave even a tiny door of doubt open, just in case Hadlow had less-than-true intentions. “Each aelric is imbued with magick for a specific individual. It wouldn’t work for anyone else.”
“What does that mean exactly, that it wouldn’t work for someone else?”
Once again a flicker of unease rose in Wesley at such a specific question.
Stop it. Now you really are being paranoid. Which he confirmed when, with another quick probe into Hadlow’s emotional state, he found nothing hidden or suspect.
The real question, he suddenly asked himself, was why he was so on edge all of a sudden? He hadn’t realized it until this moment, but something rubbed just under his skin, a faint buzz of unrest. A buzz that, now he’d become aware of it, wasn’t coming from Hadlow at all, but rather somewhere else.
Damn it. What was he sensing?
“Sir?” Hadlow prompted, reminding Wesley he hadn’t answered the man’s question.
“Sorry. Well, if you were going to be crossing the barrier in the line of duty, you’d be assigned an aelric that’s linked to you and only you. It’s created with magick, but if you’re asking for details of how it’s done, I don’t know exactly.”
Marta was in charge of the aelrics—both the creation and regulation of them. Wen had told him she was particularly gifted in the type of magick needed for it, though what kind of magick that was, Wesley didn’t know. All he was aware of was that when Marta had created one for him—because Wen had wanted him to always carry one, to ensure he’d never be lost outside the barrier—she’d had Wesley hold the small flat stone in his hand while she magically engraved tiny runes on it. Which, clearly, was part of how she linked a person’s essence to the stone.
“For the person to whom it belongs, it looks like a small, white stone with runes on it,” he continued. “But outside the barrier, to anyone else, it would look like an ordinary, nondescript rock. So the likelihood of it being stolen is almost nil. Not only that, but unless someone had at least a general idea where Kellesborne lay hidden in the first place, even a working aelric would do them no good.”
“I see your point. All of this magick can be awfully confounding at times, can’t it, sir?”
Now there was no doubt of Hadlow’s emotions…he was genuinely mind-boggled at it, which caused Wesley to chuckle softly in spite of his uneasiness
“It certainly can,” he said.
“I had no idea there were such things in the world before I came here,” Hadlow said, his voice now filled with wonder. “Now, every day, I see and hear of things that if someone had told me about them a few months ago, I would never have believed them. Obviously the sorcerer has used his magick in the past, but even he, to most of Velensperia, with his rampaging armies and his lust for power, has seemed more like a human dictator than a purveyor of magick. But since coming to Kellesborne, I’ve realized how mundane and sheltered my life used to be.”
“I know the feeling,” Wesley murmured, growing restless, needing to find out what was grating at his senses.
“And while I’ve rambled, I’ve been delaying you again,” Hadlow said apologetically, obviously picking up on his body language. “I’m sorry for keeping you, Lieutenant.”
“That’s all right, but I am going to go take my pass atop the wall now.” Because now that he’d acknowledged it, he couldn’t shut out the faint, odd buzz that set him on edge. “Have a good shift, Hadlow. Sharis is within shouting distance if you run into any kind of trouble.”
“You can count on me, sir.”
“I know I can. Goodnight.”
“Night,” he heard Hadlow say, but Wesley had already turned away, making his way in the dark back toward the wall and a bit of privacy so he could stop, close his eyes, and try to focus in on whatever was grating at him.
But moments later, he couldn’t get a firm read on it. He still felt it, but couldn’t explain it. Not in a way that probably anyone else would understand at least. To him, it was like an itch he couldn’t scratch.
After another minute of trying, he still couldn’t place it, so, finally, with a sigh, he made his way to the postern gate.
“Hey, Sharis,” he said as he approached.
She nodded and smiled at him. “Lieutenant Brannock.”
She was a draegan, probably a few years older than Wen, with short-cropped hair and dark skin. Wesley had trained with her at the old forest camp, and she’d become a member of the guard at some point while Wesley had been traveling with Allend.
“Are you done for the night?” she asked.
“Not quite. I have one more thing I need to take care of first. I’m curious, though…have you heard or seen anything unusual since your shift started?”
“I only came on a while ago, but no, not since I’ve been here. And the guard before me didn’t mention anything.” Her brows drew together. “Is there something in particular I should be alert for? I mean, aside from the fact we’ve had soldiers crawling like Estarian roaches all around the mountain today?”
“Not necessarily.” Then a thought occurred to him. “Has anyone out of the ordinary come or gone through the gate?”
“Corliss and Orlinda came in—they’d been out scouting for a couple of days down the south side of the mountain. And Jarrad was a few minutes behind them. Other than the three of them, I haven’t seen anyone else.”
“Huh. I thought Jarrad was on shift at the guard camp until morning.” He was mostly thinking aloud, but Sharis must have thought he was asking her.
“Maybe he finished early?” she offered. “Or maybe he was running an errand for someone down there?”
“Maybe.” Wesley reached out with his senses to find Jarrad, but he couldn’t pick him up anywhere nearby. Not in or around the castle. The guard camp itself was still out of his reach for anyone but Wen, although he’d been working on extending his range with other people, just not that far. “It’s a little strange that, if he’d come up from the guard camp, he didn’t enter through the front gate.”
“He didn’t say. Although, he seemed a bit quieter than usual—barely said hi to me. I just figured he was preoccupied.”
“How long ago was this?”
“A few minutes at most.”
Definitely strange. But, as Sharis had said, perhaps Jarrad had flown up to the castle on an errand, and he’d already left again. Wen was down at the camp tonight as well because of the presence of so many damned soldiers nearby, so it was possible, Wesley reasoned, that Wen could have sent Jarrad up here to get something or deliver a message to someone, and Jarrad could have had any number of reasons for coming in the back way.
Whatever the case might be, Jarrad didn’t seem to have anything to do with the odd disquiet that continued to niggle at him.
“Okay, thanks. But do me a favor and keep an eye out for…” He shook his head. “Well, to be honest, I don’t know exactly. I guess just anything that doesn’t feel quite right tonight, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant.”
She studied him closely, her brows drawn together again, as she nodded. “Of course.” He sensed his words were making her uneasy, but he didn’t know what to say to soothe her because, honestly, something didn’t feel right to him.
“Wesley…um, sorry, Lieutenant,” she quickly corrected herself.
“Is there something going on? Are we expecting trouble tonight?”
“I hope not,” he told her honestly. “Just being cautious. I’ll see you later.”
She nodded and they parted ways, but he could still sense her tension mixing with his own as he entered through the gate and sought out the closest tower stairwell that led up to the battlement.