Dark Magick Rising (Draegan Lords Book 5) by M.L. Rhodes
Copyright 2019 by M.L. Rhodes, All Rights Reserved
Wen’s first reaction to finding out Phee was the sorcerer’s spy had been shock. He would never, in the farthest reaches of his imagination, have believed the scared, soft-spoken young man would be capable of such a thing. But the shock had quickly worn off and been replaced by an aching sense of betrayal, and then a steady, burning anger that Phee had played them all and secretly stabbed them in the back. At that point, he’d wanted to grill Phee, make demands, and lock him up if he wasn’t willing to talk.
But Wesley’s sensitivity had stayed Wen’s hand.
Wesley had been there. Had seen with his own eyes the sorcerer torturing Phee. And had recognized that Phee was not only an unwilling participant, but that he had, potentially, been risking his own life to protect the draegans.
Wesley’s empathy toward Phee, his calm tone, the way he’d shared his cloak with him and been concerned with his health and wellbeing, all told Wen that Wesley’s gut instinct was to give Phee the benefit of the doubt. And one thing Wen had learned over the last several months was that Wesley’s instincts tended to be dead accurate.
Plus, when he’d calmed down, Wen had remembered all too well that night down at the guard camp when he’d met with Phee. Remembered how easily spooked Phee had been, how he’d acted like Wen was going to beat him rather than talk to him. If he were working for the sorcerer, of course he would have been scared to be called into a private meeting with Wen and Iann. He’d probably been terrified they’d discovered his secret. But his other reactions—the way he’d flinched, had been afraid to speak up, and, damn, had even been scared to ask for a drink—those things indicated a history of abuse.
Which made Wen certain that tonight was not the first time the sorcerer had hurt Phee.
So, even though he chafed at the delay, he knew a more delicate hand was needed to get answers. If Phee had truly been used by the sorcerer and forced to do his bidding, that made him a victim not a villain.
Wesley had begun making tea. Jarrad, on the other hand, was still facing the window, ignoring them all. Wen knew his brother well, though, and the stiff posture and tight jaw were indicative of his emotional state at the moment.
And Phee…he had sunk onto the thick rug in front of the hearth, returning to the position of drawn-up knees with his arms wrapped around them. He rocked slightly, his gaze fixed on the flames.
Wen was struck by the fact he’d defaulted to that position again, almost as if it were a self-protective reaction to make his body as small as possible. Less of a target, perhaps. The thought made Wen sick at heart.
He pulled one of the benches from the table over toward the fire and sank onto it. Near Phee, but not so close as to be intimidating. He hoped.
“Are you ready to talk?”
With a rattling sigh, and a forlorn expression on his face, Phee murmured, “I guess it doesn’t really matter at this point. He’s going to kill me no matter what.”
Jarrad turned to stare at Phee for a moment, his face lined with worry and confusion, but then his expression grew implacable. Looking at Wesley and Wen, he said, “I want some answers to my questions.”
“I know, and we’ll get there,” Wen told him. “I understand you’re upset, Jarrad. But right now, we need to hear what Phee has to say because first and foremost, our duty is to the people of Kellesborne. And the fact the sorcerer is too damned close for comfort to discovering our location is more pressing than any of our personal issues. Agreed?” He included Wesley in the question.
“Agreed,” Wesley said.
Jarrad huffed out a frustrated breath, but finally grumbled, “Fine. Agreed.”
“All right. Phee, let’s start with what happened tonight. When did you return from tracking Lochlann? Or did you even do that job?”
“I did. I swear,” Phee said earnestly, staring up at Wen with red eyes. “I was coming back tonight to report to you, like you asked.
“Then what were you doing atop the wall?”
“He…” He winced as he spoke. “The s-sorcerer…he makes me check in with him.”
“With one of his seeing stones?”
Phee nodded. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small, round, greyish-black stone. He offered it to Wen, who took it from him and rolled it around in his hand.
“I’m not familiar with seeing stones,” Wesley said. “Have they been enchanted by the sorcerer?”
“Yeah. It’s the same thing Byram gave Lord Rizik when he sent Lord Rizik to find the draegan camp. As I understand it, the sorcerer has some way to alert the person carrying it that he wants to speak with them.”
“It shakes. And gets hot,” Phee murmured.
“And then you take it out and…”
“And h-he appears. You can see him. And he can see you.”
Wen nodded, then reached to set the stone on the table. He noticed Phee eyeing it with concern.
“Y-you shouldn’t leave it exposed like that,” Phee said. “P-please cover it. Or put it inside something. If he should….” His voice trailed off and he looked like he might be sick.
But Wen understood what he was getting at. If Byram should happen to want to speak to Phee again tonight, he could suddenly activate the stone and then they’d all be exposed.
Wesley seemed to have come to the same conclusion because he swiftly upended a silver drinking mug and thunked it down over the stone.
Wen gave him a grateful nod before turning his attention back to Phee.
“So, tonight, did you have a set time to check in with the sorcerer or did he contact you?”
“H-he contacted me. I hadn’t spoken with him in a few days, and if I don’t check in, he gets angry.”
“And you just happened to be on top of the wall when he contacted you?”
“No. I…I was approaching the back gate when the stone grew hot and shook. I ran to the top of the wall because, up there, I can stand with my back toward the mountainside and he doesn’t realize I’m at the castle. All he can see is the rocks.”
“Wait,” Wesley interrupted. “You came in the postern gate? When?”
“Um…a f-few minutes before you found me.”
“That’s impossible,” Wesley said, addressing Wen. “I checked with Sharis before I went up on the wall and she said the only people who’d come through the gate anytime recently had been Orlinda, Corliss, and Jarrad.”
“What?” Jarrad moved closer, to stand near the fire. “I never came in the postern gate tonight. I was down at the guard camp.”
Sharis said you did, said you were running, like you were in a hurry, and that you barely said hi to her. She just figured you were on an urgent errand.”
“And I’m telling you that I never came through the postern gate tonight. I was with Wen the whole time. Tell him,” Jarrad said to Wen, indignant.
“He was with me for probably the past hour or more.”
“What in hel, then?” Wesley said. “It was dark, but in the torchlight, Sharis wouldn’t have made a mistake like that. She truly thought it was you.”
“Shit,” Wen muttered. “I’ll be back,” he said, starting to rise. “I’ve got to go alert the guards we might have been breached.”
“Um…” Phee said, his voice choked. “It…it was me.”
All three of them looked at him, and Wen’s sixth sense tingled to attention, causing the hairs on the back of his neck to prickle. “What?” he said.
“It…it was…me. She…she saw me.”
“No offense,” Wesley said, “but you look nothing like Jarrad, Phee. Even if you were bundled up under your cloak and she couldn’t see your face, you’re a full two hands shorter than he is. I seriously doubt she could stand next to you and mistake the two of you.”
“I…I didn’t look like myself. I…” His gaze shot to Jarrad and fear flooded his dark eyes. “I looked like you when I entered. I th-thought I’d attract less attention that way.”
“What are you talking about?” Jarrad asked.
“I felt the stone just as I came out of the trees and was heading toward the wall. I…I panicked. I either had to turn around and r-run for the trees, or run through the gate and get up the tower stairs as fast as I could before…before things went bad. The guard had already spotted me, even though it was from a distance. I knew if I ran back toward the trees she’d be suspicious and follow. So I decided to run for the wall. And…I…I figured if I looked like y-you she wouldn’t stop me.”
“If you looked like me? I have no idea what you’re going on about.” Jarrad’s voice was brittle with frustration.
“Did the sorcerer give you a potion to change your appearance?” Wen asked. “He did that for Lord Rizik, when he first came to the camp in the forest.”
Phee took a hard swallowed. “No,” he whispered. “It…it wasn’t a potion.”
“Wait…” A sudden, sharp sense of knowing hit Wen in the gut as the puzzle pieces of Phee’s words began to fit together. “Phee, are you…? Do you…have the ability to change form?”
“What?” Jarrad asked, looking between Wen and Phee.
Wesley only listened and watched, but Wen could feel his curiosity.
After another swallow that looked downright painful, Phee faintly nodded.
“What?” Jarrad said again, his voice tight.
“How?” Wen asked, struggling to keep his own voice neutral.
“I…I can make myself look like other people. People I’ve come into physical contact with.”
“Bloody fucking hel,” Jarrad said under his breath, his eyes gone wide. “He’s a morphy?”
“A morphy? What’s that?” Wesley asked.
“A morphling,” Wen said. “Morphy’s a nickname, and not a very nice one at that.” He gave his brother a reprimanding look. But Jarrad appeared too astonished to notice. “Morphlings are actually members of the fae race. But they’re—”
“Abominations,” Phee whispered, looking miserable, like he wished he could crawl into a hole and disappear.
“Not abominations,” Wen said. “They’re just born different from other fae. They look different, and have different magick abilities.”
“The fae are real?” Wesley looked more than a little shocked himself.
“Very. But they live in another realm, hidden from the rest of us. It’s closed to all but their kind. And, sadly, when a morphling is born, because he or she doesn’t look like the rest of them, they…” He wasn’t sure how to say it without sounding harsh.
“They take us as babies to the other side of the veil, into this world, and l-leave us,” Phee finished for him. “Most die.”
“They abandon their own children?” Wesley said, and Wen felt his horror.
“We…we’re not worthy. We’re ugly and useless.”
“No, you’re not,” Wen said. “You’re just different.” To Wesley he said, “The fae are vain and value only what they think is ‘perfect’ beauty. Most have varying shades of light hair, all have violet eyes, fair skin, and a wide range of magick abilities. Morphlings usually have eyes and/or hair of a different color, and lesser magick, often only the ability to change shape.”
“They can morph into other forms,” Wesley murmured. “Morphlings.”
“Abominations,” Phee whispered again.
“No,” Wen said firmly. “You’re not. You’re just as valid as they are. But, given their usual practice when a morphling’s born, Phee…how did you survive as a baby?”
“Who’s Clara?” Wesley asked, handing Phee a mug of hot tea. Phee looked scared to take it, but when Wesley gently pressed it into his hand, his fingers automatically curled around it.
“She was a human who found me. She took care of me and was kind to me. But the s-sorcerer’s soldiers killed her when I was still a child. I was seven. They found out what I was and took me to the s-sorcerer.”
“How long ago was that?” Wen asked.
“Um…twelve years maybe.
“You’ve been at Thrythgar for twelve years?”
That would make him around nineteen, almost as old as Wesley, though he looked younger.
“And what happened once you were at Thrythgar?”
Phee clenched his hands together and winced. “I…” He drew in a ragged breath. “They…”
“He was a slave,” Wesley answered, staring at Phee, his face drawn and his emotions anguished. Clearly he was reading Phee. “You still are one, aren’t you?”
Phee look up at him, his lower lip trembling. Slowly, he nodded.
“How you do know he’s not just making all of this up?” Jarrad asked. “About being Byram’s slave. It sounds like a convenient way to get out of taking responsibility for his actions.”
“He’s telling the truth,” Wesley said quietly, still watching Phee. His empathy pulsed like a light around him, and Wen felt it as if it were his own.
“How in hel do you know that?” Jarrad demanded.
“Because I can read his emotions,” Wesley said hoarsely. “He’s terrified of Byram, and in pain. Just thinking of the sorcerer, hearing his name, fills him not only with fear, but with a deep-down desolation that’s almost crippling.”
“How could you possibly tell all that?”
“Because Wes is an empath,” Wen told his brother.
Jarrad stared at him a moment, then look at Wesley, his mouth open. “If…if that’s true, what am I feeling right now?” he challenged.
Wesley turned to meet his gaze and, without hesitation, said, “You’re angry because you feel as if Phee betrayed you personally, as well as the draegans as a whole, and you’re also angry at Wen and me for knowing things you don’t, for making you feel like an outsider. And for what it’s worth, I’m sorry about that. You’re also torn over your feelings for Phee. You care about him. More than you’re willing to admit out loud, but you’re hurt as well. Probably because he said earlier he pushed you away to protect you, but you didn’t know that at the time, and his rejection hurt you. And under all of that, you’re scared and confused. Which is completely understandable under the circumstances.”
Jarrad continued to stare at him. Then his shoulders slumped and he dragged a shaking hand through his hair. “I…I don’t even…”
But Wesley had apparently had enough of consoling or explaining himself to Jarrad. He turned back to Phee and crouched in front of him. “Phee, I sense your pain isn’t just emotional. You’re physically hurt, too, aren’t you?”
Phee took another hard swallow. “It’s nothing,” he whispered.
“No, it’s something. I saw the sorcerer hurting you, but I couldn’t tell what he was doing. Would you be willing to take off your cloak and let me look? Please.”
“It’s not anything,” he said again, unfastening his thin cloak and letting it fall to the floor. His shirt was thin as well and the sleeves were too short for him, showing delicate wrists and hands.
Wen saw Wesley frowning as he reached for the collar of Phee’s shirt. “May I?” he asked.
Phee looked less than happy, but nodded.
Wesley eased his collar aside and examined Phee’s neck. “I know I saw you clutching at your neck when he was threatening you,” Wesley said. “Except I don’t see any marks.”
But when he gently pressed his fingers against the fair skin of Phee’s neck, Phee whimpered and cringed away.
“I knew it,” Wesley murmured. “But I don’t see anything. I don’t understand.”
Jarrad, totally surprising Wen, considering how aloof he’d been with Phee for the past hour, sank to his knees onto the floor next to Phee, edging Wesley out of the way, and rested a hand on Phee’s knee. Wesley rose and stepped back, giving them some space.
“You’re glamoured right now, aren’t you?” Jarrad said to Phee. “This isn’t how you really look, and the glamour is hiding your injuries.”
Phee’s features twisted in distress. “I…it’s…”
“It’s okay,” Jarrad said, continuing in the surprisingly soft tone, rubbing his knee. “Show us. Please. I don’t want you to hurt.”
Phee looked at him, his dark eyes once again welling with tears. “But I’m ugly,” he whispered.
“I don’t believe that.”
“The s-sorcerer calls me a worm.”
“He’s a lying, murdering bastard who probably calls everyone names because it feeds his ego. But he’s wrong. Please, Phee. Show me who you really are.”
Phee dragged in a shuddering breath. And then another. Then he closed his eyes, and seconds later, with only a faint shimmer around him to indicate he’d just used magick, his appearance changed. Sort of.
For the most part, he actually looked very much the same—the same small stature and blue-black hair, though it no longer fell below his shoulders. Instead, it had been clipped short, with the loose, dark curls close against his scalp and twining around his now gently pointed ears. His eyes, when he opened them, were still brown, but there was something unusual about them. It was almost as if they were luminescent. It gave them an ethereal quality. Wen wondered if the fae, with their violet eyes, also had the same odd underlying luminescence. He suspected they might. In any case, they were unusual enough that was probably why Phee had changed them with his glamour, so they’d look ordinary and human.
But what filled Wen’s gut with an aching knot, were the gods-awful angry marks and scars Phee bore, both around his neck and his wrists. Those were the only places his skin was visible, but Wen had a horrible feeling that wasn’t the full extent of his injuries.
He felt Wesley’s horror as keenly as his own, and they exchanged a glance. Wesley shook his head and, wincing, silently mouthed, My gods, to Wen. Wen nodded and reached out to him with some soothing magick, then extended it to Phee and Jarrad as well.
“What’s he done to you?” Jarrad murmured, easing Phee’s collar farther open to better see his neck.
“Iron,” Phee whispered.
“Iron?” Jarrad asked.
“Remember the old stories Iann used to tell us growing up?” Wen said. “The fae can’t bear the touch of iron. It burns them.” He looked at Phee. “It affects you the same way, doesn’t it?”
“These marks go all the way around your neck. And your wrists. Fucking hel. He’s kept you in chains, hasn’t he?” Jarrad said, his voice rife with angry grief that even Wen could read without being an empath.
Phee ducked his head. “Always,” he said so quietly it was hard to hear him. “Until he sent me to find the draegans.” He suddenly looked up at Wen directly. “I know I should be p-punished for spying, and I know you all must hate me for what I’ve done, but…” His face grew anguished and he looked like he was a half a second away from crying again.
“But you like it here,” Wesley said softly. “Where you have freedom.”
Phee nodded. “P-please, please don’t make me leave. I don’t care if you lock me up or…or punish me however you want. Even if you…if you want to k-kill me. I’ll do anything. Just please don’t make me go back to him.”