Dark Magick Rising (Draegan Lords Book 5) by M.L. Rhodes
Copyright 2019 by M.L. Rhodes, All Rights Reserved
Wesley didn’t have to wait long.
He hadn’t been sure if Wen would fly to the wall and land up here, or if he’d land in his usual clearing on the ground, then climb up on foot. But he knew well before he heard footsteps approaching that Wen had chosen the latter. Probably so he could dress and get his weapons.
He was also holding a brightly burning torch.
And he wasn’t alone.
“You’re all right?” he asked hoarsely, reaching out to gently scuff his thumb over Wesley’s bearded cheek, his expression tense.
Wen released a slow breath. “Good. When I first heard you, I feared… Well, I’m just relieved you’re okay.”
Wesley grew aware that Jarrad was watching them closely, and suspiciously. Wen must have realized it at the same time because he gestured toward his brother. “Um, Jarrad came, too. He was with me when—”
“You sensed him?”
“Saw him, actually. I saw the two of you talking to Solanis.”
Wen’s brows shot up, and then a faint smile curved his lips.
Jarrad, on the other hand, wasn’t smiling. Tight lines creased his mouth as he looked between the two of them. “Okay, what in hel is going on with you guys?” His gaze landed on Wesley and stayed there. “Wen started talking out loud to you when you were nowhere around down at the guard camp, which was freakish enough. Then he flies up here and comes straight to you when there’s no way he could possibly know this specifically where you were. And now you say you were aware I was with him? That you saw me? How in bloody hel is that even possible?”
Wesley and Wen exchanged a glance and Wen slightly grimaced, as if to say, “Sorry.”
“It’s…complicated,” Wesley told Jarrad, which he knew wasn’t going to appease him, but it would have to do for now. To Wen he said, “And it’s all right that he’s here. It’s just as well. This actually concerns him, too.”
Without further delay, Wesley turned and opened the door to the small room.
The sounds of Phee’s whimpers had trailed off while they waited for Wen’s arrival, but as Wen held the torch through the doorway, the light wasn’t kind to Phee. He sat against the curved stone wall, his knees drawn up against his chest, the hood of his thin cloak pushed back, and his face red and swollen from crying.
“Phee!” Wen said in surprise.
“Phee?” Jarrad weakly echoed, his emotions a sudden tangled mix of… Actually, Wesley couldn’t even sort them all out, or at least not right now. It would take more energy than he currently had since he was still recovering from his empathic jaunt through the night to find Wen.
“My gods,” Wen said with concern. “What happened, Phee? How long have you been back?”
He started to cross the threshold to go to the young man, but Wesley put a hand on his arm to stop him, which also stopped Jarrad, who was trying to push Wen through so he could get in, too.
“Before you approach him and start comforting him, you both need to know what I found him doing a short while ago.”
“Please,” Phee pleaded in a quivering voice, looking up at Wesley, a newly formed tear spilling down his cheek. “Please don’t tell them.”
“You know I have to.”
“What’s this about?” Jarrad asked, his own voice strained.
“Let’s go in and shut the door for privacy first,” Wesley told them. “Not that I expect anyone else to wander up here, but this is too important to take the risk.”
When they were in the room with the door securely closed, and Wen had put the torch into the metal holder on the wall, Wesley took a deep breath. He looked at Phee, who’d dropped his head onto his knees, his face hidden, and was silently crying again.
“Wes, what in hel?” Jarrad’s face had gone pale as the snow. Wesley could tell he wanted to go to Phee, but at the same time he looked torn over doing it.
“What is it, love?” Wen said to Wesley, quietly, encouragingly.
“I was doing a pass along the top of the wall before I came in for the night. As I approached the eastern end of the battlement, where it intersects with the mountain, I heard voices, two of them. That’s…not normal. Late at night like this, I’ve never even run into another guard up here, much less a civilian. One of the voices sounded angry, so I was concerned. I didn’t want to barge into it without seeing who was involved and knowing what was going on, so I eased closer, staying out of sight. When I finally got a view…one of the people speaking was Phee.”
Wen glanced at Phee, then back at Wesley, his brow furrowed. “And the other?” he asked.
Wesley drew in another breath and released it. “I know it’s going to sound unbelievable, but the other person, the one Phee was talking to…it was the high sorcerer.”
A moment of stunned silence followed his words, and the tension level in the room ratcheted up to an almost unbearable level for Wesley.
“What?” Wen gritted out. His gaze snapped to Phee again. “The sorcerer was here? Here at Kellesborne?”
“It wasn’t him in person,” Wesley said, clarifying. “Not exactly anyway. It was…” He shook his head. “I don’t know, like a…a translucent version of him, sort of hovering above the ground, talking to Phee. It was really Byram, but it’s like he wasn’t fully present. And when they were done talking, he disappeared, as if a light had been snuffed out.”
“Fucking hel. Probably one of the sorcerer’s seeing stones,” Wen muttered under his breath. “Is that what it was, Phee?” he demanded. “Did the sorcerer give you one of his seeing stones? Is that what you were using? And if so, why do you have it and why was the sorcerer talking to you?”
Wen’s voice, stronger now, vibrated with anger in a way Wesley had never heard before.
Jarrad stared at Phee in disbelief. “What have you done?” he whispered.
Phee didn’t respond to either of them, except to cry harder.
Wesley answered for him. “I heard enough of the conversation, I can tell you why they were talking, if it’s not obvious already. He’s been spying for Byram.”
Between Phee’s terror, Wen’s fury, and Jarrad’s horror, the emotions in the room had become so thick Wesley found it hard to breathe. He had to try several times before he could fully fill his lungs with enough air.
Wen must have sensed his reaction to the emotional overload because his gaze suddenly slid to Wesley, concern on his face, and Wesley could feel him trying to rein in his emotions.
“What did you hear, Wes? What specifically were he and the sorcerer talking about?”
So Wesley told them the conversation he’d overheard, including the sorcerer’s demands and the timeframe he’d given Phee to bring him “the treasure” or give him the location of Kellesborne.
As he spoke, he felt Jarrad withdrawing, both emotionally and physically, moving back to stand against the far wall. Wen, on the other hand, listened intently, asking questions, making a point to direct most of them to Phee for clarification, but Phee continued to stay silent, sobbing. He was shivering now, too. Whether from cold or fear, Wesley didn’t know. But, damn it, it touched on his sympathy. He didn’t want it to, but it did.
With a sigh, he pulled off his own cloak and, stepping closer to Phee, knelt and draped it over him.
Phee glanced up in surprise at Wesley’s gesture.
While Wesley had his attention, keeping his voice quiet, he said, “Phee, I saw the sorcerer torturing you.”
“Torture?” Jarrad whispered brokenly from the vicinity of the far wall.
Wesley nodded. “Byram was clearly hurting him somehow, but I couldn’t see what he was doing. And it doesn’t make sense if the sorcerer wasn’t even really here.” He returned to addressing Phee, trying to keep his voice even and gentle. “When he was threatening you, you were in pain. Physical pain. What was he doing and how?”
But Phee only shook his head. “I…I can’t tell you anything,” he whispered. “Please.”
“Look, I’m furious that you lied to everyone and that you’ve put the lives of so many people at risk. But from what the sorcerer said, he’s still looking for Kellesborne and seemed to have no idea you were actually standing right here on the castle grounds while you spoke to him. Which means you haven’t told him everything. It was obvious to me he was threatening and hurting you to make you talk. You could have spoken up at any time, letting him know where you were, yet you didn’t. So I’m trying—we’re trying,” he said, glancing back at Wen, who gave him a faint nod of encouragement, “to be understanding. But you have to talk to us. You need to tell us what you have told the sorcerer, and you need to tell us how you became his spy. Obviously it’s not something you want to be doing.”
“I don’t,” he whispered. “I swear it. I…I never wanted to lie. I never meant to h-hurt anyone. Jarrad?” he said in a pleading tone, looking up at Jarrad.
Wesley turned to glance back at Jarrad, but Jarrad held up a hand and shook his head. “No,” he said in a shaking voice. “I…I can’t deal with this…”
Wen looked at Wesley, questioning, and Wesley felt his confusion. Of course. He didn’t yet know Phee had been Jarrad’s mystery lover. Gods, once again he’d give anything to be able to use mindspeak.
Instead, he looked at Wen, then glanced at Jarrad, at Phee, then back at Wen with a look he hoped Wen would pick up on.
Wen did. Because his eyes widened. “He’s the one?” he said softly.
“That’s why you said this involved Jarrad, too.”
Again Wesley nodded.
“You two are doing it again and it’s making me fucking crazy,” Jarrad snapped.
“Sorry,” Wesley said. He turned his attention back to Phee, who was still staring bleakly at Jarrad, who was refusing to even look at him at all.
Gods, what a mess.
“Look, Phee, you have to talk to us,” Wen said, crouching next to Wesley. His voice was firm but not harsh, and Wesley knew he was trying hard to stay calm for Phee’s sake. “Wesley already saw you speaking to the sorcerer, so your secret’s out. You might as well tell us everything. If he’s hurting you somehow, forcing you to do his bidding, let us help.”
“He…he’ll kill me,” Phee whispered in a cracked voice.
“He won’t know that you talked to us,” Wesley said. “How could he possibly know?”
“H-he always knows everything.”
“He doesn’t know about this,” Wen assured him. “We can protect you here—”
“No, no, no. You can’t!” Phee put his hands over his ears and shook his head.
Wesley exchanged a troubled look with Wen.
Finally, Phee swiped at his eyes and nose and looked at them. “You don’t understand,” he whispered brokenly.
“Then help us to,” Wesley said. “Help us understand.”
Phee radiated absolute misery. At this point, Wesley could barely find it in himself to be angry at him. Watching him, listening to him, was heart wrenching.
“We’re not going to harm you,” Wen said. “Because if we did that, we’d be no better than the sorcerer. That’s not the draegan way. It’s not how we treat anyone at Kellesborne. You told me a few weeks ago that you wanted to help me, help us, because people here had been kind to you. If you truly meant that, then talk to us, and in return, we’ll do what we can to help you.”
Phee’s lower lip quivered as he looked at Wen. “I…”
“Phee, please.” Even as Wesley said the words, he felt a twinge of guilt for feeling so sorry for Phee when Phee had been telling the sorcerer gods only knew what. On the other hand, he apparently hadn’t told the sorcerer the biggie—where Kellesborne was located. And since Phee had been living here for weeks, then maybe he truly had only been spying under duress and had been…
“You’ve been intentionally misleading the sorcerer all this time, haven’t you?” Wesley asked. “You’ve purposely been protecting the castle and the draegans even though he’s been threatening you.”
Phee look at him and swallowed hard. And then, slowly, he nodded.
“Maybe he’s just saying that to protect himself, now that he’s been caught,” Jarrad said in a clipped tone.
Wesley didn’t miss the fact Phee’s gaze shot to Jarrad and a rush of genuine pain lanced through him at the harsh words. Jarrad’s anger was hurting Phee as much as the news Phee was a spy was hurting Jarrad. There was definitely more between these two than just a casual physical relationship.
“I-I’m not protecting m-myself,” Phee said, obviously fighting back more tears. But as he spoke, his voice grew stronger and he continued to look at Jarrad. “If that were t-true, I already would have told him what he wants to know. I’ve been t-trying to protect you.”
It was the first real thing he’d said that wasn’t pleading or refusals.
“Me?” Jarrad asked, his tone one of shock.
Phee nodded, still looking miserable. “And everyone else. But I…I didn’t, don’t want you to be hurt by him. That’s why I pushed you away from me.”
Wesley sensed Jarrad’s tangled emotions, but at the forefront was embarrassment. He quickly looked at Wen and Wesley and said, “Um…I…we…have been…”
“We know,” Wen said gently.
“What the fuck? How?”
“P-probably because Wesley sensed us together,” Phee said. He looked hesitantly at Wesley.
Now it was Wesley’s turn to be shocked. He quickly glanced at Wen, who stared back at him, as surprised as he was.
“What makes you think that?” Wesley asked Phee, his heart pounding. How could Phee possibly suspect he’d sensed them together. That would mean…
Phee’s eyes grew wide and uncertainty invaded his voice now. “Um…I…they don’t know? I’m s-sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything. I assumed… I shouldn’t have. I’m sorry.”
He truly was. Wesley could read him so clearly—the thing about Phee was, his emotions were all over the place, but they ran deep, and everything he experienced rippled off him in massive, impossible-to-miss waves. But what was far more concerning to Wesley at the moment was that somehow, some way, Phee knew Wesley was an empath. Which led to the obvious question…what else did he know? Did he suspect Wesley was an ondaen?
A knot of dread formed in Wesley’s gut.
“I’m going to ask again and this time I need real answers,” Jarrad said, interrupting his thoughts.
Wesley could tell Jarrad’s emotions had almost reached the boiling point.
“What is going on?” Jarrad gritted out. “Everyone’s talking in riddles that you all seem to understand and I’m the only one on the outside. I’m sick of it! So someone better tell me right now what the fuck is happening here!”
Wesley exchanged another look with Wen and then sighed. “It’s time Jarrad knew anyway. I’ve been thinking that for a while.”
Wen nodded. “It’s your call, love. But it probably would make this conversation easier. Especially since…” He glanced at Phee with concern, and Wesley knew he was thinking, Especially if Phee knows the truth, but how does he know the truth?
The knot in Wesley’s gut twisted as he wondered the same thing, and none of the potential answers were good.
Wesley felt the warmth of Wen’s soothing magick washing over him, and he gave him a grateful look.
“Obviously there’s a lot to talk about,” Wesley said. “But before we do, is there someplace we can take him”—he gestured toward Phee—“where we won’t be interrupted or attract attention, but that’s warmer?”
Phee was shivering harder now, and Wesley wasn’t exactly comfortable himself since he’d given up his cloak. This room was cold and cramped and he’d never intended for it to be anything more than temporary.
“Yeah, of course,” Wen said. He pulled off his own cloak and draped it over Wesley’s shoulders before addressing his next words to Phee. “I’m not going to tie you up or make a scene when we get down below, but just know that every one of us can outrun you if you get any ideas of escaping.”
“I’m n-not going to escape,” Phee whispered, as if the simple act of getting words out took all his energy. “I have n-nowhere else to go.” He murmured the last under his breath, and said it with such utter defeat Wesley knew it was the truth. Which once again tugged at Wesley’s heart. Damn it.
“All right,” Wen said. “Get up. No sudden moves.”
Once they were down the steep steps and on the ground, Wen and Wesley walked one on either side of Phee, while Jarrad followed behind them, radiating anger and hurt with every step.
Wesley had no idea where they were going, so he was completely surprised when Wen led them into the main part of the castle. It was quiet this time of night with only a few people around, mostly other guards, who greeted them in passing. Outwardly, Wen and Wesley acted as if it were a normal night and they just happened to be walking with Jarrad and Phee. But between Wen’s tension, Phee’s swollen and tear-ravaged face, and Jarrad’s angry scowl, Wesley was a little surprised no one else seemed to suspect something was amiss. They went up the main staircase, and Wesley was even more surprised when they stopped in front of his and Wen’s rooms.
Wen shrugged, probably reading Wesley, and said, “No one’s likely to bother us here, and it is warm.”
When they entered, Jarrad didn’t even take off his cloak, but instead stalked straight to the big window and stared out into the night, distancing himself as he had in the tower room.
Phee, on the other hand, stood just inside the doorway, his mouth agape, staring around the room in obvious wonder. But even that was tinged with the ever-present fear that haunted him.
Wesley took his cloak from Phee and hung it and Wen’s cloak up, then crossed to the fire to make tea. Gods knew they all needed it.
Behind him he heard Wen say, “Go sit by the fire, Phee, and warm up. And then, I’m going to insist you talk to us and answer some questions.”
Questions Wesley wanted answers to as badly as Wen did.
I’m going to stick to posting on Wednesdays for now, gang. My weekends have been pretty chaotic this summer, and looks like they’re going to stay that way for a bit longer. Posting midweek is working out well for me at the moment.